Ronald P. "Ronnie" Hebert

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Visitation will be held Sunday evening from 4 until 7:00 p.m. at Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home, O'Neal Road, Gulfport. The funeral service is Monday at 1:00 p.m. in the funeral home chapel and interment to follow at Gulf Pines Memorial Gardens, Long Beach.

Fond farewell to Ronnie, Gulfport High's No. 1 fan

Gulfport High School lost its biggest supporter Wednesday morning. And we are all the worse for it.

Ronnie Hebert passed away.

I'll miss seeing Ronnie wave his white towel at football games, miss seeing him ring the lap bell at the track meets, miss seeing him yell encouragement to the baseball, basketball and soccer teams. And I'll miss his phone calls to the paper late at night to give us a Gulfport score.

Ronnie was 65 when he died, but most of us found it hard to believe he had reached that age. He was timeless, and always there.

Former Gulfport High School coach and athletic director Lindy Callahan got Hebert involved in Gulfport sports in 1961. The number of events he attended - football, soccer, baseball and track - is mind-boggling. And he saw so many great athletes in those 47 years.

"From that time on, there never was and never will be another Ronnie Hebert," Callahan said Wednesday. "He loved Gulfport athletics. There was no special sport for him. He loved them all."

When I came to the Sun Herald in 1981, you used to see Ronnie ride around town on his bicycle.

Present Gulfport athletic director Howard McNeill saw Ronnie for the first time at a track meet at Milner Stadium, running on the grass in either 1963 or '64.

McNeill was on his way to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport on Wednesday morning to see Hebert when he received the sad news that he had passed away.

"I'm trying to get all the coaches together," McNeill said. "All of us are numb right now. We want to see if we can figure out what kind of tribute we can pay to this guy.

"He was the most loyal person to Gulfport in the history of this school. I wouldn't try to touch his legacy to Gulfport sports. And it was not just to one sport."

In fact, Ronnie was immensely happy when he heard the Gulfport girls soccer team had won the Class 5A state championship two weeks ago.

Hebert was particularly close with former Gulfport coach Ronnie Cuevas, who is presently the football coach at Harrison Central. You can imagine his dilemma on the sidelines the past couple of years when the Admirals and Red Rebels played football.

"He was the Admirals' No. 1 fan," Cuevas said. "I don't think people realize how important he was to the Gulfport community. Everybody knows him by name."

Ronnie's trademark yell was "Soybeans" and "Yip, Yip."

He apparently picked up "soybeans" at the 1978 American Legion State Tournament in Greenville. Ronnie used to travel with coaches Irvin Favre and Mark Ross of the Joe Graham Post 119 baseball team. He saw the soybeans fields, and the story is Irvin Favre told him popcorn in Greenville was made of soybeans. That saying stuck and fans heard him yell, "Soybeans" from then on out.

And how beloved was he by the players? Here's one example.

In the early 1970s his three-wheel bicycle was stolen. The Commodores basketball team - guys like Ray White and Bobby Jones, brothers Joe and Jeff Jenkins, and Frank Bertucci - took it upon themselves to get that bicycle back. They did, and dealt out a little justice on the perpetrators.

Cuevas and McNeill remembered fondly one time when they gave Ronnie a ride home after a soccer game. The bicycle bounced out of the pickup truck and they had to track it down U.S. 90. Fortunately, no one was around and the bicycle escaped unscathed.

With Ronnie sitting between Cuevas and McNeill, Howard kiddingly asked Ronnie who was the better looking of the two coaches.

"Ronnie said, 'Coach Cuevas, but I love you, Babe,'" McNeill said. And they all had a good-hearted laugh.

Former Gulfport Mayor Bob Short was a longtime friend of Hebert.

"He was neat individual," Short said. "We took him to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., for the International Special Olympics, where he won a gold medal. He competed for 30-something years.

"When I was mayor, he would call City Hall every day and ask me how I was doing. We took him to a Green Bay Packers game and he found a white towel in Brett's box and was waving it for the Packers. They all loved him up there."

Ronnie was close to the Favre family: Irvin, Bonita, Brett and the rest of the family. The news hit the Favre family hard Wednesday.

"It's a sad day for me and my family," Brett said. "We've known Ronnie for a long time. We were close.

"If you knew sports on the Coast, you knew who Ronnie Hebert was. He will be missed by many, including myself."

The visitation and funeral will be at Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home on O'Neal Road but the day and time had not been set yet.

Lindy Callahan reflected the feeling of all those whom Ronnie touched during his life.

"We'll miss him and Gulfport High will miss him," he said.

-- DOUG BARBER, SUN HERALD SPORTS EDITOR
Published in The Sun Herald from Feb. 28 to Mar. 4, 2008
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