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Team to Call Our Own

Mar 14, 2024 05:12PM ● By Kelsey Swire
By Jim Gazzolo

As McNeese players celebrated a championship 22 years in the making, an entire community became a winner.

The Cowboys' run to the Southland Conference title and return to the NCAA Tournament is more than a boost for the players, coaches and athletic administration.

It is a victory for a community that has been through its share of tough times over the past few years. 

“I am so happy for our fans, our school, our community,” said McNeese first-year head coach Will Wade. “If we can help them feel good in any way then that is great.”

Wade often underplays his importance to the area but those around him understand.

“I don’t think Coach Wade has any idea how important he is to this community,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “This area was looking for something to rally around and they found it in him and this team.”

Schroyer actually began this when he got the Southland to agree to play its championship tournaments in Lake Charles two years ago. That gave the city and area a platform to showcase themselves to a national audience for a week each year.

You can’t buy that type of publicity.

Enter this version of the Cowboys, a group of guys from all over the country who came together for this moment in time to help revive a program and community.

For them, McNeese was a place that could give them a chance to play some basketball. They all had stories of hardship themselves, as they tried to find the right place that would give them a chance at a comeback.

What they did was come to a town that was looking for its own rebirth, one that needed to find something or someone to bring back the pride. Nobody would have ever guessed they found it in a bunch of guys running around in shorts.

“This has been great for the community, great for everybody associated with McNeese,” said Allen Abshire, President of the Cowboy Club. “It has been great to see all that has happened here.”

McNeese has won 30 games for the first time in the history of the program at the Division I level. They finished undefeated at home, 18-0, and led the nation in point differential with a plus 18. 

But those are just numbers, facts for basketball junkies to look up for years to come.

What really matters, and is the gift of this group, is what they have given to the fans and area. We are not just talking dollars here, it is much more than that.

Wade’s crew has given the community something to cheer for, something to rally around, and something to care about. 

Most importantly, it has given them something to call their own and a reason to feel good.

“Getting Wade here and getting the tournament here has given this community a great amount of pride,” said Schroyer. “To see them enjoying this season and this team really makes me happy.

“This community has been kicked around and forgotten about. But they got this team and that is something to enjoy.”

The most important thing is this team gives the community something to care about and something to rally around.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese athletics. He is the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles