Laugand builds basketball dreams in Clarion County
This article is part of a continuing series on athletes who graduated from high schools in Clarion County.
By Nate Steis
For the CLARION NEWS
On the surface, the cities of Dubuque, Iowa and New Orleans, Louisiana could not be more different but that doesn't mean there isn't a connection between the two cities.
For those who know the game of basketball and the power of sports know the connection between the two cities. St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, a 5A school in the Catholic school league of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA), had a direct basketball pipeline to the University of Dubuque. The Purple Knights have produced countless college and professional athletes over time including the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Leonard Fournette, Avery Johnson, Kerry Kittles, and Tyrann Matthieu just to name a few.
For several years in the 1980's and 1990's, talent from New Orleans, and especially St. Augustine's, would find themselves fifteen hours away by vehicle in the heart of the Midwest playing Division III basketball. For those wondering what this has to do with small town Clarion, Pennsylvania, the answer will soon be unraveled.
Just a few short years ago, a New Orleans kid found his way to Clarion University. No, not to play his college basketball, but to make an everlasting impact in the community through the game. Rogers Laugand originally came to Clarion in 1990 after graduating college and in that same year earned a degree in political science. Through a connection made and from word of mouth, Laugand learned about and applied for a position in admissions at Clarion before becoming the Director of Minority Student Services at Clarion University.
For the past thirty years, there is no question that Laugand has made an everlasting impact not just on the town and the university, but the entire area. If you go to a local high school basketball or even an area college game, there is a good chance Laugand will be in attendance. His network is vast, and it is one that only continues to expand. In 2006, Laugand had a vision to increase the popularity of basketball in Western, Pennsylvania. With the help of Joe Deas, Angelo Anderson, and countless others, Laugand went on to start the Clarion Rising Stars AAU basketball organization.
Over the past fifteen years, Laugand has coached countless college basketball players, and several others who chose other collegiate sports as well. Laugand has coaches and players from early elementary school to high school seniors. The organization would not continue to function without many coaches and volunteers, but Laugand is the mastermind behind the dream and vision.
"I am thankful for all of the local area support for this organization," Laugand said. "Without all the support, this would not be possible. I have had a lot of support from organizations like the VFW and many of the area clubs and organizations. Their donations and caring about the players and kids first truly makes and will continue to make a difference."
One unique opportunity which comes with coaching a travel organization is Laugand was the ability to coach his daughter Kiana and sons R.J. and Julian.
When talking about how the game of basketball brought the family closer, Laugand said "I had a great experience coaching my kids. From a very early age, all three of them felt a need to play the game. The opportunity to play travel basketball exposed them to other areas, other schools, and it allowed them to travel and see what else was out there. My kids pretty much played basketball all year long, and I think this helped them all become great players, but more importantly better people."
Through the years, Laugand has coached some tremendous teams including the 2009 group that won a national championship. He has also seen some of his former players form lifelong friendships and some of his players have even gotten married. On the court, he has coached players who have played at every level of college basketball possible. While he is proud of the basketball knowledge he could share, the life lessons and advice he can provide is what is most important to him. As of late, Laugand has seen other AAU organizations form in the area, but to him, he is glad to see it.
"I do not view the other teams as competition," Laugand explained. "I am glad that more and more area youth are having this opportunity to better their skills. I have no allegiance to a school, and I am willing to help any kid who wants to get better. I started this thing because I wanted kids to have a better opportunity to get better at basketball because it was something our area did not have a lot of."
Through his life, Laugand would not have become the leader he is today without a few others who encouraged him. He listed his parents as his biggest supporters in any mission he has set out on. The man responsible for helping lead Laugand to Clarion was Dr. Ralph Watkins who has served as a great mentor to him for many years. He also mentioned that he would not have had the success without all the coaches who have given countless hours to keep the Rising Stars organization going. He also was sure to speak about his college coach Jon Davison who served as a great mentor in the game of basketball to him as well as his high school and travel basketball coach Terrence Saulny. Coach Saulny was the reason why Laugand wanted to start his own travel basketball organization later in his life. Lastly, his immediate family always was supportive of giving up time to help the area flourish more when it comes to basketball.
Over the past thirty years, Laugand has made an impact in the Clarion community helping young people succeed in a variety of aspects of life. He has helped young people feel more welcomed to Clarion University and helped area youth become better athletes and better people. The area has seen an increased number of players pursuing basketball, and Laugand has recently seen a few players he coached turn professional and semi-professional over the last few years. While his kids are no longer playing in the program, he does not plan on showing down or giving up the organization because of just how many kids are participating in his clinics, skill sessions, and travel basketball teams. While Laugand has made an impact for many years in the area already, he is excited for many more of making Clarion University and Western, Pennsylvania a better place.