The Battle of the Dragon and the Yellow Jacket
Thursday, September 7, 2006
Today is a special day of remembrance. It’s been four years since my friend Ricky Gallien died. His family and thousands of friends still miss him… and always will. On this day, I want to relate one of the finest and funniest stories he ever told: It is the story of the Dragon and the Yellow Jacket.
Ricky was good at so many things. His ability to work with others and get the best out of them was an attribute that made him a standout person and talented leader.
No where was that strength more evident than from his years as a basketball coach. I watched him coach at every level- Little Dribblers, Junior High, High School girls, and High School boys. He had the knack for getting the very best out of his teams and that is the mark of a true coach: taking what you have and developing it into a team.
The year that the story of the dragon/yellow jacket took place was probably Ricky’s best year of taking a team to a higher level. He took a good DeRidder High School boys team to a level no one expected: the state quarterfinals. (I believe it was 1984.)
The quarterfinal game with New Iberia High was scheduled for DeRidder’s old Pinewood gym. This was due to a rule that prohibited teams from playing in their home gym. This fine old wooden gym was packed with a huge pumped up crowd.
Here is how Ricky related what happened during warm-ups:
“DeRidder’s team, the Dragons, and the New Iberia team were warming up on the court. The packed stands, separated from the floor by a retaining wall, were full of fans from both schools. The DeRidder mascot, a student dressed in a dragon suit with a long tail, paraded up and down the sidelines exhorting the home team fans to cheer loudly.
As the New Iberia players shot lay-ups, their mascot, a student in a yellow jacket suit excitedly ran up and down the other side of the stands. He also had a tail on his outfit, but it was short. It was a hard piece of plastic representing a stinger.
As the two mascots were cheered on by their respective fans, the inevitable happened– the dragon and the yellow jacket came upon each other right by the scorer’s desk- Right in front of the coaches bench.
The two mascots began playfully jostling with each other much to the delight and attention of the crowd. However the wrestling and grappling soon became a little more rough than playful. It is at that point that the yellow jacket began turning around and aggressiveoy poking the dragon with “his stinger.”
By now the dragon mascot had had enough. On about the third sting, the dragon reached out and punched the yellow jacket, landing a good right hook that sent the yellow jacket sprawling on the court, down for the count.”
Ricky would tell this story with a gleaming twinkle in his eye coupled with his special smirky smile. He said pandemonium broke out as the yellow jacket lay prone on the court to the astonishment of the crowd, coaches, and fans.
DeRidder Dragon fans whooped with laughter at their mascot’s action. The New Iberia Yellow Jacket faithful were (excuse this phrase) “mad as a hornet.” Ricky said that a near riot broke out. With the help of administrators, coaches, and law enforcement, the crowd was brought under control and order was restored. The Yellow Jacket, none the worse for wear, received a half-hearted handshake and apology from the Dragon and the game then started.
Even though the Dragon won the undercard, the main event was won by New Iberia’s team. They narrowly defeated DeRidder and advanced to the state tournament at LSU.
It’s been a long time since the battle in Pinewood’s gym. However I can still see it in my mind as Ricky stands there trying not to laugh as the yellow jacket goes down.
That unique smile, those twinkling eyes and his warm expression are what I will carry with me today, September 7, 2006.
I really cherish my last memory of Ricky. I don’t remember the date unfortunately but I guess that’s not really important. I had just found out about Bettye’s cancer and was concerned. She and I were wonderful childhood friends however, we lost touch since I left home. I called their home to talk to Bettye and Ricky answered the phone. His voice was just as I remembered it to be and I pictured him in my minds eye. He told me that Bettye was shopping with her sister in town and wouldn’t be back for a while. He was studying, I believe for his Masters. I told him that my husband, Philip, was interested in doing the same and he encouraged me to encourage him. We talked about Bettye, the cancer and the effect it had on the kids. He told me that his daughter was finding it particularly difficult to deal with, understandably. I work in the health care field and I empathized with him and I tried to give him some encouragement. He really didn’t sound discouraged, just concerned with helping his daughter through a tough time. Actually, it turned out to be a wonderful conversation. I knew nothing of Ricky’s depression and he gave no indication of it. Before I knew it, we were on the phone for about 45 minutes. I had thought about visiting them on my next trip home but, as usual, the trips home seem to be a whirlwind and I never got to see them. I really wish I had. Anyway, I’ll always keep that memory of him tucked away in my heart. I don’t want it to be a sad memory. I know they must miss Ricky terribly but, I know he had a great love for his family.
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