Berwick educator honored -- Drive named for Tommy Bourgeois

BERWICK, La. — Perseverance in the face of adversity.

It’s something Tommy Bourgeois taught his athletes at Berwick High School, his students at Berwick Junior High, and now practices daily.

In honor of everything the former coach, who now battles ALS, has done for his students over the course of his 32-year career, the circle drive at Berwick Junior High was named Bourgeois Drive today. In addition, a move is on to change the official address of the school from its 3010 La. 182 address to 3010 Bourgeois Drive.

As a high school teacher and coach, Bourgeois served as a motivator and strategically skillful guide for many baseball, basketball and football teams, including the Berwick High basketball state runner-up team in 1994 and football playoff team in 1996.

Two men from the 1996 team — Cody Adams, a lineman, and Aaron Ribardi, a quarterback — began the drive to name something at one of the schools in Bourgeois’ honor.

“He always pushed us so hard and made sure that whenever we failed, he picked us up,” Adams said.

Ribardi said a speech at an athletic banquet in 1997 spurred the idea to do something for Bourgeois.

“He spoke about 20 minutes straight on this one kid that weighed 135 pounds but ended up being first-team, all-district at safety. He was quiet and never said a word. Never said a word about anything, and that’s what coach talked about. Kinda odd the way things happen. The guy he was talking about was my younger brother (Derek Ribardi) and he’s the one who actually said, ‘You know what? They need to name something about (Coach) Bourgeois, the gym or something’,” Aaron Ribardi said.

The following Monday, Adams and Aaron Ribardi began the petition that eventually garnered more than 1,200 signatures in 30 hours as well as 14,000 shares on Facebook and 10,000 views.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A resolution approved during Thursday’s St. Mary Parish School Board meeting made the action official, and signs were erected this morning, along with a ribbon cutting being held to officially dedicate the road.

Acting Berwick Junior High Principal Teresa Bagwell said she thinks the movement started in the right way.

“I think it started in the right way because nobody loves a principal or teacher more than their kids and the idea of paying tribute to him started with his former students who wanted to make sure he was properly honored. We wanted to find a loving tribute that would forever mark the school that he was dedicated to all these years,” Bagwell said, adding “One thing about Tommy, that you may find in talking to him, he is for the kids. The sole source of his existence is to make life better for these kids and to help pave the way for them to succeed.”

Berwick School Board member Mike Taylor said, “It’s a great day in honor of somebody that’s been a tremendous asset to the Berwick school system and the Berwick community. It’s just a tribute to all the lives that he’s touched to see the huge crowd that’s here today for this dedication,” Taylor said, referring to the 50 or so assembled for the ribbon cutting.

Bourgeois himself issued a written statement on the occasion:

“I don’t think anyone ever expects this kind of recognition at the end of their career. If you are truly teaching for the right reasons, you hope you get one or two students to come back and thank you for helping them academically or socially as your reward. Words cannot express how humbled I am from the outpouring of love and support I have received from students past and present, colleagues, parents, and the community of Berwick as a whole. I look forward to working with Dr. Bagwell and helping her continue with the motto ‘Right Thing Right Attitude’.”

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