Dec. 2, 2010

Courtesy of Louisiana College Sports Information Department

PINEVILLE, La. -
In news that hit the Louisiana College (NCAA Division III) community with a mixture of sadness and joy, women's basketball coach Janice Joseph-Richard has died following a courageous battle with breast cancer.

The word came late Wednesday afternoon that Richard had passed away. She was 46 years old.

"Everything about her was class," said LC President, Dr. Joe Aguillard. "She was in touch with what mattered. She was just so real."

At this point, no funeral arrangements have been made, though it is certain by a request made by Richard before her death that the funeral will be held at LC's Guinn Auditorium.

News of Richard's death began to spread quickly across campus and all the way to Brownwood, TX (southwest of Dallas), where the LC women's basketball team had traveled by bus for their game Thursday at Howard Payne University.

Interim coach Jason Tinsley, who took over for Richard at the start of the season when it became apparent she could not continue due to her declining health, quickly gathered the team together at their hotel. Most of the players had already heard of Richard's death due to phone calls and text messages.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through," Tinsley said. "It's like losing a family member. The remaining players (from last year's team) that are here are just devastated."

"As we started talking, it got very emotional, for myself included. When they left, they were a little better. Everyone will be grieving in their own way."

That includes the LC men's basketball team members who are also on the road trip that will take the Wildcats to Apline, TX and Sul Ross State on Saturday. Tinsley said that if it were up to him, he would request the games to be cancelled to allow the players to return home to their families. But, since both games are part of the American Southwest Conference schedule and cannot be changed, the two teams are going to have to play on despite the emotional toll Richard's death is having on the players.

LC men's coach Gene Rushing said the most positive thing about the untimely circumstance of the road trip is that the players and coaches are getting a lot of support via phone calls from back home.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach Richard's family," Rushing said. "We knew it was coming. You can brace for it, but it's tough to deal with when reality sets in."

What had to add to the players' shock was the fact Richard had just made an appearance at the team's home game last Saturday against Schreiner. Though she was confined to a wheelchair, Richard cheered on the players who helped LC win the ASC Championship and gain the school's first-ever birth into the NCAA Division III Tournament a year ago. Even the players who are new to the program were recruited by Richard and her long-time assistant, Alpha English.

Richard had also made an emotional appearance November 13 during a ceremony for last year's championship team during which the players and coaches received rings and the school unveiled a banner to commemorate the team's accomplishments.

Even then, however, it was apparent that Richard was losing the battle she had so courageously fought. What had become a third relapse of the cancer was something her body could not overcome.

Aguillard called Richard "one of the greatest legends who's ever walked this campus," and indeed she was.

The Alexandria native played high school basketball at Peabody. Her career at LC stands as one of the greatest ever, if not the greatest.

In 1986, Richard led LC to a number one ranking in NAIA and a final four appearance in 1986. She was named NAIA First Team All-American in 1985 and 1986 and served as team captain all four years she was a member of the Lady Wildcats. She was twice named the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year and still holds school records for points in a season (822), most field goals in a season (315), and most free-throws made in a season (192).

After her playing days at LC, Richard played professionally, both in Europe and the United States. In 1991 she was Europe's leading scorer, averaging 31 points per game. That same year, she helped lead her team, Karlscruhe, Germany, to a European league title.

When her playing career ended, Richard began her venture into coaching in 1987 as an assistant coach at Southeastern Louisiana University under former LC head coach, Frank Schneider. Here first head coaching job came in 1992 at then LC conference rival, Xavier of New Orleans. In six seasons at Xavier, Richard compiled an impressive record of 159-34, winning four Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championships and qualifying for the NAIA National Tournament. She was also named the GCAC Coach of the Year four times, and her teams at Xavier never lost more than eight games in a season. On three seperate occasions, her Xavier teams win 28 games in a season.

Richard then took on the task of rebuilding an NCAA Division I program that had never won - San Jose State. It didn't take long to change that. In their six seasons with Richard as coach, SJSU had a combined record of 90-84. She was named the WAC Coach of the Year in 2002 after leading San Jose State to a 17-11 record.

But, it was during her time at San Jose that Richard was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Following her leave of absence, the school decided to move in another direction with its program. Richard saw it as an opportunity to come home, and that she did.

It just so happened that LC was looking for its own basketball coach at the time, and Dr. Aguillard found himself amazed at the timing - although his soon to be coach was not.

"She told me then she knew the Lord allowed her to come back here for a divine purpose," Aguillard said. "She always upheld the LC mission."

And much more than that. Richard became Central Louisiana's most visible spokesperson in the fight against breast cancer. There could not have been a better one. Her inspiration touched thousands of people outside the LC community. The LC basketball team held its "Think Pink" games. Richard rode in parades and made appearance after appearance to spread the word and raise money for research.

When the Alexandria-Pineville community came together for its first-ever "Race for the Cure" back in October, Richard was the natural choice for honorary chair. Though she was already weakened from this final battle, Richard made another memorable appearance and inspired a team of walkers and runners from LC to join the cause.

"She was always uplifting, always very positive." Rushing said. "She just means so much to LC. We've been blessed to have her here."

There will be much said of Richard's legacy in the days, weeks and months to come, but there is one legacy that will stand above the rest, her son Lee. Part of the reason Richard moved back home was to have the support of her friends and family, and obviously now for them to support him.

As for LC, Richard's impact will be remembered for a very long time, the extent of which Aguillard said may yet be seen. In meeting to pray with her and her family in these final months, Aguillard, along with Dr. Chuck Quarles and Richard's Pastor, Rev. Joe Greene of St. Matthew's Baptist Church of Boyce, found Richard's greatest desire was to see others come to the faith in Jesus Christ that she had come to her lifetime.

"I feel that the Holy Spirit has shown me that through her death - because of the stance she took - this will impact our campus in a long-term way," Aguillard said. "I truly believe that there will be a spiritual experience through this."

"She wanted me to tell people that she wanted them to know Christ through her death."