Inductees include former longest-serving president in McNeese history, former Abilene Christian faculty rep and the first conference president, and former legendary track and field coach at Northwestern State
FRISCO, Texas – The Southland Conference revealed its 2017 Hall of Honor Class that includes two legendary administrators and a highly-successful head coach, in an announcement from Commissioner Tom Burnett on Thursday.
Former McNeese State University president, Dr. Robert Hebert, former Abilene Christian University faculty athletics representative, Dr. JW Roberts, and former Northwestern State University track and field head coach, Leon Johnson, will be inducted May 23 at the annual Southland Honors Dinner and Ceremony at the Westin Stonebriar Hotel in Frisco. Hebert and Roberts will be honored posthumously.
The newest trio will bring the total number of inductees to 47 (click here for complete list), dating back to the Southland’s first Hall of Honor class in 1999.
“We are certainly honored to induct Drs. Hebert and Roberts, and Coach Johnson in the Class of 2017, as all three are very deserving of this tribute by the Southland membership,” said Burnett. “Dr. Hebert provided life-long service and leadership to McNeese, its excellent athletics program, and by extension, the Southland Conference. Dr. Roberts was a key founding contributor to the Southland’s early formation and structure as an association. And, Coach Johnson was one of the nation’s best mentors in his sport, and made a meaningful impact on his university, the league, and certainly the championship student-athletes he led in his program.”
Dr. Robert Hebert, President, McNeese State University
Dr. Robert Hebert served 41 years at McNeese, including 23 years as president — making him the university’s longest-serving president. He twice served as the chair of the Southland Conference’s presidential Board of Directors.
During his presidency (1987-2010), McNeese athletics garnered 24 Southland Conference championships, 21 NCAA appearances, one NIT appearance, two NCAA national championship games in football, and two individual national champions in track. In October 2015, Hebert was inducted into the McNeese Athletics Hall of Honor for his commitment to the well-being of student-athletes and support of the athletic programs.
Hebert supervised more than $133 million in campus renovations and construction projects including the Noland Family SkyRanch, Hodges Street Field House for women’s athletics, and the renovation and expansion of the Jack V. Doland Field House for men’s athletics.
A defining moment of Hebert’s leadership came in September 2005 when Hurricane Rita struck the university, leaving more than $25 million in damages to nearly every building on campus. Hebert and his team worked to bring classes back only five weeks later. McNeese went on to hold graduation ceremonies later that same semester. He was also instrumental in acquiring a $1.5 million grant from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Relief Fund to assist with recovery efforts.
A graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who later earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Florida State University, Hebert joined the McNeese faculty in 1969 as a member of the Department of History. He passed away in May 2016.
Dr. JW Roberts, Faculty Athletics Representative, Abilene Christian University
Dr. JW Roberts served at Abilene Christian from 1946 until the time of his death in 1973. The Tennessee native was instrumental in the founding of the Southland Conference, including his election to serve as chair of the new organization’s meetings of faculty representatives (who then oversaw Conference operations), athletic directors, coaches, and sports information directors from member universities in Austin in 1963.
Roberts went on to develop the conference’s first constitution and by-laws and was elected to a two-year term as the league’s first president. After his death in 1973, the Southland Conference voted to name its individual awards in track and field in his honor.
He served as chairman of the faculty athletics committee at Abilene Christian and as the university’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA. Roberts helped manage, direct, and officiate track and field meets for the Wildcats at Elmer J. Gray Stadium.
Dr. Roberts was a Bible and Greek scholar, editor of the scholarly journal Restoration Quarterly, and he authored several commentaries on books of the New Testament. He served as minister for churches of Christ in Texas, Kansas and Indiana, and he was a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis. Roberts was a frequent speaker across the nation, and he participated in several global mission trips.
Leon Johnson, Northwestern State
Leon Johnson was the head track and field coach at Northwestern State for 31 years (1982-2013), retiring as one of the most respected and accomplished coaches in collegiate athletics. The Southland Conference Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year award is named for Johnson, who was enshrined in the Demons’ N-Club Hall of Fame in 1999.
Johnson’s coaching credits include starting women’s track and field in 1986 and serving as the program’s head coach for its first three seasons.
Ninety-three athletes under Johnson’s tutelage qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championship, 29 for NCAA Indoor Championships, and 13 different student-athletes in his program set 47 NSU school records.
His teams claimed nine Southland team championships, and he was named Conference coach of the year eight times. Johnson is regarded as being a guiding force in the staging of conference championship track and cross country events, and he became an advisor and role model to younger coaches throughout the league.
Johnson remains involved with the NSU Athletic Department. He’s the program’s coach emeritus. Johnson is an integral part of planning and hosting the Louisiana High School State Cross Country Meet, in addition to assisting with strength, conditioning, and agility coaching for the Demon’s men’s basketball team.