Florien surprises Strother with a spectacular Saturday sendoff

PROUD GRANDPA:  Retiring Florien girls’ basketball coach Dewain Strother was surrounded by loved ones last Saturday night at his surprise dinner and salute at FHS. Two grandsons, Brindyn (left) and Drake, were among family attending. Brindyn was the water boy/manager for the Ladycats from his days as a second grader until last year when he was in the sixth grade.

“I just drove the bus.”

That’s what retired Florien girls’ basketball coach Dewain Strother told a packed room of admirers last Saturday night at the conclusion of a poignant and entertaining surprise dinner and salute to him.

Earlier last week, Strother was inducted in the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame for his incredible 40-year coaching career, all at Florien High School.

Somehow, the Florien community kept Saturday night’s event at the high school a secret, and it did surprise the beloved coach, who is finishing the school year in the classroom. He thought the family was going out for dinner.

And they were. But instead of a restaurant, the dinner was at FHS, with a whole bunch of friends, including a huge turnout of girls who played for his teams dating all the way back to his first Lady Cats ball club 40 years ago. Several of the former players, ranging from two of the original four seniors to his daughters and all the way to current-day players and those on his last state championship team in 2017, spoke eloquently and emotionally about the impact Strother made on them during their FHS days and since.

His coaching resume is unmatched in the history of high school girls’ basketball in Louisiana, with a record 1,235 wins and only 395 losses. Strother ranks second all-time in American high school history for wins by a girls’ basketball coach.

He took six Ladycats teams to state championships. Five others reached the state finals. Another 10 made the state semifinals, including his last team, which finished 29-3 just over a month ago.

Among those in a video tribute to Strother was LSU women’s coach Kim Mulkey. When she appeared on the screen, there was a round of gasps from the audience, and she delivered heartfelt remarks praising him for his impact at home, and around the state, and for how well he treated her in her visits to recruit his players.

Retired Northwestern Lady Demons coach James Smith traveled from Spearsville to surprise his dear friend, and was greeted by two Ladycats, Angela Lucius Anthony and Stephanie Williams, who helped Florien win state titles and went on to help NSU post 20-win seasons and make postseason appearances.

Northwestern vice president of external affairs Drake Owens presented Strother with the university’s prestigious ‘Nth Degree’ award, which hasn’t been presented since 2019, recognizing how Strother has been a great representative of his alma mater.

Along with the video of tributes from coaching friends and others, the audience was treated to a slide show highlighting Strother’s career as the only girls’ coach in school history.

FHS principal Eddie Jones Jr. opened the event, following a prayer by Bro. Wayne Chance. Jones welcomed the crowd and spoke glowingly, and humorously, of his friend, colleague and golf partner. Former FHS principal Ed Corley also provided reflections on Strother, and their words were not forgotten when Strother took the stage to end the evening.

“The principals I’ve had here, I’ve trained a lot of them,” he said, drawing a big laugh from the crowd. “I’ve had some good ones, they’ve supported me.

“People have asked, ‘do you really want to retire?’ And I say, ‘yep, it’s time to hang it up.’ But I’ll be back around.”

The finality of his farewell finally began to sink in, as Strother explained he was a man of few words and it was getting late.

“Thank you so much. This is … words can’t explain. I love y’all.”

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