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Fri. Feb. 18

The Battle of the Dragon and the Yellow Jacket

A note for Sat. Feb. 19

Today is a special day of remembrance. It’s the birthday of my friend, Ricky Gallien. 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 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 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 could tell this story with a gleaming twinkle in his eye and 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 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, Feb. 19, his 52nd birthday.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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