|Leonard O'Neil "Lenny" Fant|
October 25, 1923|
Hamilton, Marion County, Alabama, USA
|Died||October 12, 1998
Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Alma mater||University of Alabama|
|Spouse(s)||Jo Hethcox Fant (predeceased)|
Leonard O'Neil "Lenny" Fant (October 25, 1923 – October 12, 1998), was from 1957–1979 the men's basketball coach of the Northeast Louisiana University Indians (renamed the Louisiana–Monroe Warhawks in 2005). During his tenure, Fant compiled an NLU record of 326–221. His 326-game record was topped in 1999 by one of his understudies, ULM Coach Mickael E. "Mike" Vining.
Early years and education
Fant was born in Hamilton in Marion County in northwestern Alabama. He graduated from Lee High School in Columbus in Lowndes County in northeastern Mississippi. From 1946-1949, he played basketball at the Methodist-affiliated Centenary College in Shreveport. He led the team, known as the Gents, to a 21–16 record and a second place finish in the newly formed Gulf States Conference. He obtained his master’s degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. From 1950-1953, Fant coached at Delhi High School in Delhi in Richland Parish in northeast Louisiana. For the 1953-1954 season, Fant was the athletic director and head coach at Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville in Rapides Parish. From 1954-1957, he coached at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall in Harrison County in east Texas.
Northeast Louisiana University
Thereafter, at ULM, then known as Northeast Louisiana State College and Northeast Louisiana State University (NLU), Fant's teams won seven conference and/or district championships. After overall losses in the 1957-1961 seasons, Fant compiled eighteen consecutive winning seasons at NLU. Upon his retirement in 1979, he completed his single-most successful record, 23-6.
His players included future school superintendent and State Representative Lanny Johnson of Franklin and Tensas parishes; Lawson Swearingen, later the ULM president and a former member of the Louisiana State Senate from Monroe; Jamie Mayo, current mayor and former city council member in Monroe, and Calvin Natt, a former National Basketball Association player who passed up the chance to attend Louisiana State University in order to play under Fant. Mayo recalled that Fant "cared about us after our eligibility ended. When I was first elected to the City Council, Coach Fant was one of the first people to call and congratulate me." Swearingen said that Fant had a "desire to see us do well after our playing days. He had a way of inspiring and motivating you to give your best." Former Representative Lanny Johnson, whose service as a superintendent includes the three parishes of Franklin, Tensas, and Ouachita and who was the first All-American at NLU, said that he often called Fant to get jokes for use in Johnson’s public speeches.
Others who played for Fant were Stuart David Toms (born October 5, 1941), later pastor of Sweetwater Baptist Church in Quitman in Jackson Parish; Mike Vining, later the NLU men’s basketball coach; David Pickett, then of Whitehouse in Smith County, Texas, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Roger Stockton, former NLU women's basketball coach. Pastor Stuart Toms, who played at NLU from 1960 to 1963 and was inducted in 1995 in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, said that Fant "epitomizes everything positive and good about college athletics [even though] much has been written and said about the negative side of college sports."
Benny Jesse Hollis (born 1938) first met Fant in 1956 and played on his first team and ultimately became his assistant coach. Hollis recalled that Fant "made everyone he met feel like they [sic] were his best friend." Hollis was succeeded as head coach in 1981 by Mike Vining but continued as athletic director until 1993. Vining played for Fant in the middle 1960s: "We weren't just playing for pride. We were playing so Coach Fant wouldn't lose. He had that kind of impact on us. He was our friend and our coach. It's something that not many people in this profession can do."
Death and legacy
Fant was affiliated with the NLU Booster Club and Alumni Center, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the Bayou Desiard Optimist Club, the National and Louisiana Basketball Coaches associations, the Masonic lodge, and the Shriners.
He died two weeks before what would have been his seventy-fifth birthday after an eighteen-month battle with colon cancer. He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Jo Hethcox. Survivors included his son, Lynn Fant (1951–2012), a native of Talladega, Alabama; daughter Wanda Fant Smith and husband, Vance; grandchildren, Brandon Cruse; Janna Smith; Bo Smith; and Shawna Smith Grant, all then of West Monroe, and a brother: J. D. Fant of Memphis, Tennessee. Fant's funeral service was held at the Ewing Coliseum, the basketball arena built during his coaching era. Pastors Stuart Toms and William Smith officiated. Ewing Coliseum was subsequently renamed the Fant-Ewing Coliseum. To the right of his casket was the basketball from his 300th win, a 95–73 victory in 1974 over Catholic-affiliated Tulane University of New Orleans. The Reverend Smith, Fant's pastor at Lakeshore Baptist Church in Monroe, called him an "extraordinary ordinary man".
Fant is interred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Monroe. In 1988, he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was named to the Centenary College Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame, and the ULU (then NLU) Hall of Fame. In 1999, ULM introduced the "Lenny Fant Scholarship".
- "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
- Paul Letlow. "Vining Inducted into Louisiana Sports HOF". southalabama.scout.com. Retrieved January 4, 2009.
- "Centenary Athletic Hall of Fame Announces New Inductees, March 1997". centenary.edu. Retrieved January 5, 2009.
- Paul J. Letlow (October 15, 1998). "Coliseum funeral put coach back on court he loved". Monroe News Star.
- "Mark S. Rainwater, "Fant's legacy lives on in 'his boys'", October 13, 1998". Monroe News Star. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
- "Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame inductees". lhsaa.org. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
- "Lenny O'Neil Fant". bayou.com. Retrieved January 4, 2009.
- "Obituary of Lynn Fant". Monroe News Star. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
- ""[Guy] Barr honored at Lenny Fant Memorial Scholarship Dinner", February 25, 2000". ulm.edu. Retrieved January 5, 2009.