The Southern University at New Orleans Department of Athletics announced its inaugural Hall of Fame class on February 6, 2012 during halftime of the men’s basketball game in “The Castle” on SUNO’s campus.
Dr. Artis Davenport
Under Dr. Davenport, who coached the University’s track and field and cross country programs, SUNO enjoyed multiple championships. Most notable are the men’s outdoor national championships in the NCAA Division III in 1975, 1976, and 1977 as well as the NAIA Division I women’s outdoor national championships in 1995 and 1997 in addition to the women’s indoor championships in 1995 and 1997. Southern University at New Orleans is the only institution in the state of Louisiana to have won national championships in both the NCAA and the NAIA in any sport.
In years that SUNO did not win national championships, the University remained a formidable force on the college track and field scene. The Black Knights (as they were called until the mid-1980′s) finished second in the NCAA Division III outdoor national championship in 1974 and third in 1980 and 1982. The men would later finish second in the NAIA outdoor national championship in 1998. The Lady Knights also achieved success in 1985, winning third place in DIII (outdoor) and finishing fourth in the NAIA in 1994 (outdoor), 1996 (indoor and outdoor).
Under Dr. Davenport’s leadership, SUNO also established a presence in cross country. The University’s teams won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championships in 1988 and 1989 (men) as well as in 1986, 1988, 1989, and 1990 (women).
During his tenure, Dr. Davenport was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1997. Nearly 100 of SUNO’s runners were named NCAA and NAIA All-Americans under Dr. Daveport, as well.
1975 NCAA Division III Men's Outdoor
Although SUNO achieved national prominence with a second place finish at the 1974 NCAA Division III men’s outdoor national championships, the Black Knights accomplished their mission of reaching the top in 1975. Known to their peers as a cast of characters, members of the 1975 team recall returning to campus to a congratulatory banner on the famous Press Drive overpass.
One of the unquestioned leaders of the team was Joe “Sweet” Franklin, who was supported by Leon “Silky” Smothers, Herman “Peg” Verdin, Donald “Dandy Don” Clark, Lee “Big Bird” Birden, Roy “Red” Denson, Joe “Cool” Blazer, David “Panky” Belfield, Brian “Just B” Green, Craig “Wild Man” Lewis, and Larry “Horse Head” Williams. Franklin, Smothers, Verdin, Clark, Birden, Denson, and Blazer were all named NCAA All-Americans.
With a women’s basketball team that gathered strength in the mid-1980′s, SUNO discovered a treasure in Brenda Barabino. The New Orleans native, who played for the Lady Knights from 1985 to 1989, became the leading scorer in the University’s history. She was also the first Lady Knight named to the GCAC All-Conference team in 1989 and led the team to their first post-season appearance in 1988.