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#31 "ALWAYS"
Remembering Wally
Playground dedicated to former Tiger

By Justin Robicheaux, Staff Writer
July 01, 2003

REMEMBERING Former Tiger Wally Pontiff is memorialized in a plaque at Metarie Playground.

 

METAIRIE, La. - Nicholas Pontiff does not remember too much about his brother's playing days at Metairie Playground, but one has stuck out in his mind for more than 10 years.

"I was 5 years old eating a hamburger behind the right field fence," said Pontiff, brother of LSU baseball standout Wally Pontiff. "Next thing I knew I was in the emergency room having an X-ray on my back. My brother, at 10 years old, had hit a homerun. And of all the places to hit it, he hit it at his brother's back. Needless to say I did not finish the hamburger."

Nicholas and more than 600 people cramped into the Metairie Playground bingo hall Saturday morning to officially rename the park Wally Pontiff Junior Playground, in his brother's honor.

Wally Pontiff Junior Playground, located in Old Metairie, is Jefferson Parish's oldest recreational facility, said C.J. Gibson, Jefferson Parish director of parks and recreation.

Following the ceremony the crowd viewed the unveiling of a 4 1/2-foot by 3-foot marble monument with an etched picture of Pontiff in his LSU uniform.

The monument was inscribed with the phrase "Wally Pontiff Jr. Forever remembered for his academic and athletic excellence."

Wally Pontiff Sr. spoke at the ceremony and said when his son was young, one of his favorite things to do was to go out to the playground and play baseball.

 

Doris Bordelon, Wally Pontiff's grandmother, reaches out from her wheelchair to touch his etched face on the newly dedicated plaque at Metarie Playground.

 

"It means so much to know that this place will touch people and their hearts," Pontiff Sr. said. "And the thing that makes us feel great is that Wally's footsteps, his heart, and his smile will be here forever. To me that is the most comforting thing I can have in my heart."

Wally Pontiff Jr. starred in baseball and basketball at Metairie Playground from age 8 to 15. He graduated from Jesuit High School in New Orleans where he batted .471 in his senior season.

Pontiff played at LSU for three seasons and was named to the all Southeastern Conference team during his last two seasons at LSU.

During the 2000 national championship season, Pontiff was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the SEC Tournament and was named an honorable mention Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball magazine.

Pontiff died July 24, 2002, in his Metairie home. He was 21.

At the time of his death Pontiff was contemplating whether to return to LSU for his senior season or sign with the Oakland Athletics after being drafted by them in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft.

Nick Giambelluca, Jefferson Parish District councilman, proposed the resolution to rename the playground after Pontiff.

Giambelluca said the idea came from the overwhelming number of phone calls his office received from residents urging him to rename the park in Pontiff's honor.

On Aug. 7, 2002, the Jefferson Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution to rename the playground.

"It is appropriate and fitting to memorialize Mr. Pontiff by affixing his name to the playground where he first demonstrated his athletic promise," Giambelluca said.

Tim Coulon, Jefferson Parish president, said renaming the playground after Pontiff is a fitting tribute to a person who touched so many lives in the community.

Tommy Morel, LSU outfielder for three seasons and two-year room mate of Pontiff, said renaming the park is a monumental event.

"Twenty years from now kids will be asking their dad who Wally Pontiff was, and now people will always know," Morel said. "It's one thing for us to remember him, but now everyone who steps on this playground will know who he was."

Pontiff is the second former LSU Tiger to have a playground in Jefferson Parish named in his honor.

Mike Miley, LSU quarterback and shortstop in the early 1970s, also was honored by having a Jefferson Parish playground named after him.

Miley was drafted in the first round of the 1974 MLB draft and died in a car accident in 1977.