NOTE: This is the seventh part of a series published exclusively in the Jackson Parish Journal that celebrates the achievements of the six athletes and three Special Award winners that represent the Class of 2021 that will be inducted into the Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame (JPSHOF) on August 7th. This week: Doug Ireland
For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part…. The statement is what two people in love quotes when pledging their undying devotion to each other. Jonesboro native, Doug Ireland, has never spoken those vows, yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has had a longer and more passionate love affair. In a sense you could say he has been married for over 40 years. The object of his affection is his work. Ireland did not have just one “love” but several.
When you combine them all together you come up with not only an inductee into Class of 2021 Jackson Parish Hall of Fame but also on August 28th, the 2021 recipient of the Louisiana Sports Writers’ Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism earning him a place in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
First love! In his youth Ireland had a raging passion for athletic competition. As a Freshman at Jonesboro-Hodge High School he not only participated in, but excelled in both football, where he earned a varsity letter and baseball, where he was a starter on the baseball team and earned a letter in football. Then in the fall of his sophomore year he suffered a devastating injury to his knee.
Through intensive rehabilitation Ireland defied the odds and came back in time to start again for the baseball team. Unbelievably that summer he suffered another setback, this time blowing out his other knee. Undaunted Ireland spent countless hours of rigorous rehabilitation to work his way back to once again start for the baseball team as a junior.
In doing so he earned the nickname of “Penguin” by his teammates because through his efforts to strengthen his knees his thighs had grown so big that when he walked he actually kind of “wobbled” resembling the way a penguin shuffles. Ireland continued to passionately train and spurning the recommendations of many who said he should quit, he gained another letter in football in his senior season which saw JHHS finish as the 1977-78 Class 2A state runner. This was followed by him also earning All-District honors in baseball.
Second love! Unable to bridle his passion for sports, while on the “shelf” and unable to play, Ireland assisted local sports writing legend, Raymond “Doc” Jeffries, in the press box by compiling stats during the games. Jeffress also noticed the 14 year old had a tremendous talent for writing and took him under his wing to become another “Doc’s Disciple.” This led to him doing Jonesboro-Hodge game recaps and writing a column for the Jackson Independent through the duration of his high school days giving birth to one of the most distinguished and illustrious careers of any sports writer in the history of Louisiana.
Third love! This actually could be listed as his first love since the roots of this relationship date back to when he was only 12 years old. One of Ireland’s favorite pastimes while watching a sporting event on television was turning down the volume and broadcasting the game. That grew into him becoming the youngest “disc jockey” for the local radio station KTOC in the 1970’s. Upon entering college he became a play by play broadcaster as well as hosting a weekly sports show, something that he still does today every so often.
Fourth love! One of his most productive “romances” Ireland has nourished during his career was as a newspaper sports journalist. After earning his journalism degree at NSU, and spending three years as the first-ever assistant SID for fellow Class of 2021 inductee Dan McDonald, at UL-Lafayette, Ireland became an award-winning sports editor of the Natchitoches Times.
From there he joined the Alexandria Town Talk sports staff in 1987 which first allowed readers from all over the state to enjoy his unique style of writing which made a reader feel like they were actually at an event. In an 18 month period Ireland captured 15 top three finishes in the annual Louisiana Sports Writing Association Awards contest. This included an LSWA record of nine overall awards and six first places in the 1987-88 competition. He followed that up six more awards, including two firsts, in the 1988-89 contest. Perhaps the best tribute that could be given to his style of writing was the comment that a reader gave regarding his coverage of the famous LSU vs Auburn “Earthquake” game.
“Ireland’s article was so descriptive that while reading the recap of the final play, I swear I could actually feel the ground shake.”
For those who are not familiar with the contest, when LSU scored to win the game on the last play of the game, the crowd roared so loud and shook Tiger stadium so much that it actually registered on the Richter Scale at the LSU Seismology Department.
Fifth love! In 1989 Ireland returned to NSU to become the Sports Information Director (SID). His 1992 Demon football media guide won Best in the Nation for Division I-AA from the College Sports Information Directors of America, and a 1997 historical feature marking Demon great Joe Delaney’s induction in the College Football Hall of Fame was second in a national CoSIDA contest.
Ireland added dozens of LSWA awards for writing and publications as the Demons’ SID, including 33 since 2000. In February 2008, he was presented the “Distinguished American Award” by the S.M. McNaughton Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. Ireland was also named the Alexandria Town Talk’s Cenla Sportsman of the Year for 2012, an acknowledgement of his dual roles with the Hall of Fame and NSU Athletics. In 2016, he won the LSWA’s Story of the Year award as a correspondent for the Natchitoches Metro Leader and was also the recipient of the Southland Conference, 2016 Louis Bonnette Sports Media Award for impact in the NCAA Division I league. Ireland was also chosen for the 2020 “Mr. Basketball” award from the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches. After thirty years, Ireland ended his SID career in the summer of 2019 allowing him to nurture yet another romance of his, one that is still going strong after 30 years.
Sixth love! When Ireland became the SID at NSU in 1989 he also became the Chairman of the Louisiana Hall of Fame that was housed in the hall of Prather Coliseum at Northwestern State. Never content to be satisfied with the status quo, Ireland spearheaded efforts leading to construction and the 2013 opening of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches, which was declared the National Architectural Project of the year. Ireland managed all aspects of the annual Hall of Fame selections and inductions from 1990-2010, and since has continued to coordinate elections while collaborating with LSHOF Foundation leaders to stage the Induction Celebration each year.
No, Ireland has never said the vows of marriage but we should all be so lucky to have such a torrid, passionate relationship. We are extremely lucky though to have been able to catch the thousands of “bridal bouquets” that he tossed our way.