Remembering Donald Joseph LeBlanc: Commentator, statistician was passionate about sports
Donald Joseph LeBlanc was a computer and math whiz who loved sports.
Born to Ivy and Audrey LeBlanc in 1944, Donald always wanted to play, but he physically couldn’t. When he was 14, Donald started showing signs of a degenerative neurological disorder. At first, doctors thought it might be polio.
But it turned out to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth or CMT – a group of inherited disorders that affect the peripheral nerves, those found outside of the brain and spinal cord. There are many different types of CMT and it afflicts about 2.8 million people worldwide, according to the CMT Association.
The disorder is genetic and hereditary. His sister, Joan, also has it, but to a lesser extent.
It caused Donald’s feet to curl upward. Between ages 14 and 18, he endured five major surgeries. His legs were perpetually in casts from the knees down throughout high school, so he couldn’t play sports. His sister Joan had to receive his diploma for him during his graduation.
Donald went to St. Francis de Sales High School, which has since closed. He and his three sisters – Carolyn, Joan and Linda – were each members of the last classes the school hosted.
But Donald didn’t let his disability stand in the way of being a part of athletics. He managed the football team and kept the statistics for all the athletic programs at the school. Donald’s work was appreciated and he was even given a trophy when the school won the state football tournament in 1959. He even called the play-by-play during football and basketball games. Donald had an especially deep voice that was particularly good for the work.
His love for sports and the science of its tabulation stayed with him for the rest of his life. Donald attended Nicholls State University, earning either a mass communications or business degree, Joan said. While there, he continued compiling sports statistics at the university. He did that until late in his life. Later on, Donald also served as the professional statistician for the New Orleans Saints, Tulane football, the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers and NBA’s New Orleans Jazz for many years. For more than 30 years, Donald collated the sports records for Vandebilt Catholic High School. He also served as Nicholls’ first sports information director.
“He was an incredibly detail-oriented, organized human being,” said Lonnie Thibodaux, who is Donald’s nephew. “I mean it was just unbelievable, his aptitude for even the tiniest of details in a sports related field … it was just absolutely unbelievable.”
But Donald also had a love for service. It started with him helping friends who had restaurants mail out menus to businesses but evolved into something greater.
Donald was a lifetime member of the Knights of Columbus, joining in his late 20s in support of St. Gregory Barbarigo Catholic Church. Over the course of his lifetime, he amassed a mountain of awards. Donald was honored as Knight of the Month numerous times and Knight of the Year in 1986/87. He was also a member of the Houma Civitan Club. He worked many years with HARC and Terrebonne Parish Recreation, which HARC later became, and kept the scores for many of the games. DOnald taught adult computer classes at several schools in Houma. He helped support the church through bingo games.
His sisters didn’t even realize how involved he was with the Knights until later in life, Joan said.
“He wasn’t the person to beat his own drum,” his sister Carolyn said. “He didn’t pat himself on the back, he wasn’t that type of person.”
But he always found joy in sports. For many years, he announced the games at Vandebilt. Later on, his nephew, Lonnie, would become the voice of the Terriers.
Lonnie said he remembers when he was 13-years-old watching Major League Baseball games at Donald’s home.
“I had a baseball scorebook,” Lonnie recalled. “That’s how I learned how to score because he would have me sit there across the room from him scoring the game. That’s how I kind of learned how to do that.”
Lonnie often accompanied Donald to the press box to tally Saints and Vandebilt games.
Three days before Donald died of jaw cancer, Lonnie called the Vandebilt Homecoming game. Lonnie visited his uncle in Chateau Terrebonne Nursing Home, which is near the stadium, before the game and promised to call the game “extra loud” so that Donald could hear it. •