Sometimes when something takes a little more time than seems necessary, the result is simply so much sweeter. Without a doubt, that is the case with the recent induction of J.E. Loiacano in the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday evening at the Lyman Community Center.
Loiacano, a former gridiron great on the field and behind the headset as a coach, commented, "I am greatly humbled by the honor. Seeing all the support from the Hall of Fame Committee and, most importantly, my former players tonight, it brings tears to my eyes. The support we had in Gulfport when I coached here was outstanding just as the support is tonight. This is a first class event and I am honored to be a part of it."
Loiacano was a star player for the St. Stanislaus Rock-a-chaws from 1957-59 before taking his talent to Pearl River Junior College.
Under the legendary Dobie Holden, Loiacano became a first team All-American as a linebacker/running back in the days before free substitution in the game. Holden left indelible words seared on Loiacano's psyche which were, "You have to prove your worth every time out."
After PRJC, Loiacano found himself dressing in the Maroon and White of Mississippi State University. In Starkville, Loiacano proved himself again worthy of distinction as a linebacker and running back earning All-SEC honors on defense.
He was drafted into the United Football League and played two seasons with Canton and Philadelphia before a knew injury sidelined the star. He was named All-League both years.
Having retired from playing the game, he still could not get the game out of his system. He turned to coaching and tried to make it as fun for his players as it was for him.
His first coaching job was as an assistant for Lance Lumpkin at Bay High School. He spent a few seasons as an assistant before he was named head coach at Bay High School.
His rise to the head job in 1970 occurred at a crucial time when integration was happening throughout the Southeast. Closer to home, it was the combining of Valena C. Jones High School and Bay High School.
Loiacano recalled, "It was certainly a difficult time at that point in our history but the transition was extremely smooth. Zeke Bradley at VCJ was an outstanding individual and was very dedicated. He was a tremendous asset to the success we had at Bay High."
He spent four seasons as head coach at Bay High before taking the head job at Gulfport East High School.
As Loiacano tells it, when he went to Gulfport East he worked for the very best athletic director anyone could ask for in Lindy Callahan. Loiacano simply stated, "Coach Callahan was extremely instrumental in our success. He performed the AD job the way it should be done. He was always concerned with what Gulfport could do to make us successful. The support of the administration, the city and the citizens was outstanding."
For three seasons, Loiacano led Gulfport East going 4-6 in 1974, 7-3 in 1975 and 9-1 in 1976. Loiacano stated, "We were never short on leadership with those teams. When we came in we set the groundwork to be successful and built from there. The players were very athletic to begin with and we just sharpened their skills. They were so responsive to what we were doing and they soaked it up. We did our best to make it fun for them and they really took to it."
For the 1977-78 school year, Gulfport consolidated Gulfport East and Gulfport High School into one school due to the expenses of running two schools. Integration had already happened by this time in Gulfport but it was a very similar situation because neither school body really got along with the other one. Loiacano was selected to be the head coach and, again, found himself combining programs. Loiacano recalled, "This was something that the City of Gulfport had been preparing for over the previous couple of years. They knew it was coming and they were prepared for it. The combining of the schools was very easy as they had everything worked out. We had great leadership in the locker room much like we had great leadership in the school system."
Joseph Adams was Loiacano's star quarterback at Gulfport East and was also enshrined with his coach on Saturday night. Adams recalled, "I remember moving up to the varsity team and thought we would be just receiving our equipment in the off-season and that would be it. Boy, was I wrong. Coach had a complete off-season regimen for us and we learned quickly to fall in or you fall out. He was an intense coach on the field and off the field in conditioning. We were lifting for the first time in our lives. He showed us through that mentality what we were capable of. He and his 18-inch python arms showed us that it was OK to be intense and workout with a fury and a passion. We grew bigger, faster and stronger. We became driven. We became passionate. We became successful. We became men because of Coach Loiacano. And, it is such an honor to be inducted with him tonight. The amount of people who are here supporting him tonight is a tribute to what he created so many years ago."
In 1977, Gulfport went 11-1 and claimed the Big Eight title and the state championship. It remains the lone state championship in football Gulfport has attained.
Robert Hicks, a self-made athlete who was a 1,000-yard rusher, earned his GED and took his talent to Southeastern Louisiana University, commented, "We were taught so many life lessons under Coach Loiacano and his staff. We all continue to carry many of them to this day in our every day lines such as how we respond and face adversity, how we handle people and, most importantly, how to succeed. We carry these lessons solely because of what Coach Loiacano taught us. Tonight, it was evidence to everyone what effect his teaching and coaching have had with us and we love him for it."
Following his four years in Gulfport, Loiacano became the Strength and Conditioning coach for Mississippi State University. There, he continued his 'Bigger, Stronger, Faster' philosophy. He remained in Starkville for four years before returning home to Bay St. Louis where he opened and operated Loiacano's Health Club until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With the health club, he tutored and molded generations of young athletes in that same philosophy.
Loiacano is a part of the sixth induction class of the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame. He was enshrined along with his star quarterback at Gulfport East, Joseph Adams, who played at Tennessee State University and later with the San Francisco 49ers, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Rough Riders; Tommy Armstrong, who was a two-sport athlete at Gulfport and later played at Mississippi State University before a 20-year career with the US Army; Gerald David Austin, who was a longtime assistant to legendary Gulfport coach Bert Jenkins and later served as President of the Mississippi Association of Coaches; Charlotte Banks, who led Harrison Central to a 40-0 record and state championship in basketball in 1988 and later played for Ole Miss and Venezuela and Finland, professionally; Dwayne Davis, who was a three-sport athlete who won five state championships and later played football for the University of Colorado; Tom Freeman, who coached football at Gulfport from 1978-89; Kenny Jimerson, who led Harrison Central to a state championship in basketball in 1982 and was later named a Parade All-American and Mississippi Player of the Year before playing at McNeese State; Elliott McGlory, who won two state titles in track and field and ran at Northeast Louisiana University; Buddy Palazzo, who was a three-sport athlete at Gulfport before playing football at USM; Gregory Lamar Reed, who won three state titles in track and field at Gulfport before playing football at USM and later the Dallas Cowboys; Tommy Snell, who coached St. John High School to five state titles in golf before taking over the MGCCC golf program; and Gerald Warfield, who was a two-sport athlete at Gulfport and later played for Ole Miss where he led the SEC with nine interceptions and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1967.
Loiacano coached or mentored eight prior inductees to the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame including Bill Bell (2015), Fred Collins (2015), Ronnie Cuevas (2015), Ricky Floyd (2015), Isaac Steven Williams (2016), Steve Smith (2017), Roman Grace (2017) and J. Phil Freightman (2018).
The evening belonged to 13 individuals along with family members and friends who came to support them. Loiacano received the loudest and most raucous applause of the evening. Would you expect nothing less for the man who poured his heart and soul into creating excellence among these men who still idolize the man they claim could 'strap it on' with them in practice.
The evening was such an anticipated one that even one of his two female managers from his years at Gulfport, Beverly Bush, came to support him.
Friends, family and former players let their voices be heard when Loiacano was announced for induction echoing once again what his former junior college coach told him decades ago - 'You have to prove your worth every time out.'
However, the real testament to J.E. Loiacano - the player, the coach, and the man - is the living monument of former players and coaches that will perpetuate his philosophy and teaching for generations to come. Congratulations, Coach Loiacano!