In 1977 my high school, Metairie Park Country Day, played their way into the Louisiana State High School Basketball Championships, known informally then as the Top 20. At that time there were actually twenty four teams competing in Classes AAAA, AAA, AA, B and C. All the semi-final and championship games were played in the same venue. The year before in Alexandria we came in second in our class. In 1977 the games were moved to Lake Charles.
It was a star studded tournament. Class 4A DeRidder had Mike Sanders. The 6’6″ Sanders was a UCLA signee and later played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Class 3A Redemptorist of Baton Rouge had a 6’4″ sophomore phenom named Howard Carter. Carter would go onto play for LSU and the Denver Nuggets. Class 2A Newman was led by Sean Tuohy. A year later Tuohy signed with Ole Miss, led the SEC in assists for three years, and became the adoptive father of Michael Oher, inspiring the book and movie known as The Blind Side.
We were in Class 1A and were led by our 6’8″ All State center John Derenbecker. John was not only a great basketball player he was also a superb student. He had already been accepted into Yale, the University of Virginia, and Tulane. He was polite and well mannered. But he had a rapier wit and was extremely clever. He also took great interest in another participant in the tournament, a small Class C school called Meaux.
Meaux is in Vermillion Parish, just northwest of Abbeville not far from Lafayette, in the southwest area in the state. It was originally called Herrington’s Island and then later Millington. In 1919 it was renamed Meaux when Muriel Daisy Meaux and his wife Odelia Broussard donated one and a half acres for a new school. John sensed that Meaux, pronounced Moe, was an underdog. He also was intrigued and tickled at the pronunciation of the town’s name. So he decided to create a special tribute.
When Meaux took the floor for their game there were a smattering of fans that had made the drive over to Lake Charles. Suddenly there was a cheer and a sign. A big cardboard sign that said GEAUX MEAUX! The sign bearer was John, all 6’8″ of him. We cheered hard for Meaux, and the sign was waved proudly, but Meaux eventually went down to defeat. The sign soon found it’s way to the nearest waste basket. Of course as seventeen and eighteen year olds we had no idea what it meant to legally secure naming rights. We were just having fun cheering for a little school with a quirky name.
Years later I began to see the Cajun phenomenon take wing and with it the word Geaux. I could remember that things perceived as Cajun were not always well received. Today Cajun cuisine, it’s language, and culture is embraced nationally and internationally.
Now at LSU games Geaux Tigers is ubiquitous. You see the phrase on signs, shirts, cups, and billboards. But every time I see that word I think of a little school named Meaux, trying to win a state championship, and the 6’8″ cheerleader who made a sign for them. Way to Geaux John!!