DONALDSONVILLE – After 29 years working in Ascension Public Schools, Director of Human Resources and former East Ascension High School Principal and Coach Randy Watts is retiring.
“Randy Watts is a champion. His nearly 30 years of service to the Ascension Parish School Board has been filled with success stories in various positions of responsibility to include the classroom, athletic fields, as well as building level and district level leadership. Randy remained committed throughout his career to develop, encourage, and inspire others towards success, and we know he will likely continue that in this next season of his life, ” said Superintendent David Alexander.
“I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving Randy and the Human Resources Department as superintendent and have worked alongside Randy while we both served as principals and directors. At his very core, he is a loyal, trustworthy, and dependable teammate, but most of all, he is a great person to have as a friend,” said Alexander. “We will miss Randy, but we appreciate the opportunity to celebrate his career; we recognize and honor his privilege to retire; and we wish him the very best!”
FROM OPELOUSAS TO ASCENSION
Randy Watts was born and raised in Opelousas, Louisiana to World War II veteran James Watts and French native Denise Watts. He met his longtime wife and life partner, Karla, when he was in the ninth grade. They began dating the next year and have been together ever since. During high school, he played “all the sports” but had a particular love for the game of baseball.
After high school, Watts attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL; now named University of Louisiana at Lafayette) before enrolling in Lafayette Charity School of Radiologic Technology. In 1979, he married Karla, earned a certificate in radiologic technology and began working as an x-ray technician at Opelousas General Hospital.
In 1981, Watts was approached by one of his former coaches, Armand Castille, about a coaching position at Opelousas Catholic High School. With his love of sports and longtime ambition to play and coach, it did not take much to convince him to change professions. He re-enrolled at USL to pursue a teaching certificate while serving as Head Baseball Coach, Assistant Football Coach and a PE teacher at Opelousas Catholic.
The birth of their son, Jamie, in 1983 prompted Watts to become an oilfield salesman. Although it was a financial decision to change careers, his love of the game led him to join an adult softball league with whom he travelled all over while playing shortstop.
After the oil bust in 1986, Opelousas Catholic offered Watts the opportunity to return. After a year at OCHS, he was hired by USL Ragin’ Cajuns Baseball Coach Mike Boulanger to serve as a pitching coach. He has fond memories of working at USL alongside Assistant Coach Emerick Jagneaux, including putting together bleachers while eating pizza on Thanksgiving Day. His work at USL helped instill his sense of pride in nurturing your facilities – a trait that followed him throughout his career. While working at USL, Watts completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Health Education.
Part of his duties as an assistant coach at USL was recruiting at high schools throughout Louisiana including Ascension Parish. While attending an Allstar game in Ascension in 1990, Watts was approached about a job at East Ascension High School (EA). After meeting with EA Principal Juanita Bacala and Athletic Director Barrett Murphy, Watts became EA’s Head Baseball Coach, Assistant Football Coach and PE teacher.
It was a significant move for his young family, who had an extensive network of family support in Opelousas. “It was very hard to move, but when the opportunity arose we thought it was time to go out on our own and grow as a family,” said Watts. “We were embraced by so many people in Ascension. It became our home.”
EAST ASCENSION HIGH SCHOOL
Watts embraced the community and culture of EA so much that he practically bleeds blue and gold now. He dedicated 20 years to the Spartans, including 12 years as Head Baseball Coach. His very first season in 1990 was his favorite — not because it was the most successful, but because it was the most challenging.
“The talent in this area was phenomenal. Each and every day, we lined up to face players that would go on to play Division I baseball in college and some even to the majors,” said Watts. “Although we did not have the same level of talent, we had a bunch of tough, hardcore guys who competed every game and would go on to tie for the league championship.”
Heart, dedication and hard work defined the EA baseball program. Watts’ days at EA would begin around 6 a.m. at the field and then end around dark. He admits now that perhaps practices ran a little too long, but putting in the time paid off. “We were always better prepared to compete early,” he said.
Part of practice was taking care of the field, “building and taking care of the place you had sweat and time in.” Many of the parents and community members also contributed and took pride in our facilities, including Gary Hebert with Hebert Steel, who installed the state-of-the-art outfield wall that can withstand 125 mph wind and be taken down and reassembled in a couple of hours.
Their collective investments of time and resources paid off when Spartan Field was recognized by USA Today as one of the top facilities in the South. But, it wasn’t just because of the quality of the field or the seating capacity of the grandstands that qualified them for this honor. It was also the food. According to Watts, they had the best food during their games and tournaments — anything from steak poboys to fried fish and shrimp etouffee — and the parents did it all. “It was such a great atmosphere, that people who didn’t even have a kid playing would come to eat a good meal and watch our games,” said Watts.
THE HEART OF SPARTAN BASEBALL
Watts remembers fondly the hard work and dedication of his players, but the heart of Spartan baseball was team manager John Keith “Johnny” Ambeau. Although Watts met Johnny when he became coach in 1990, he was already very well known throughout the baseball community for his love of the game and EA.
Born with a disability, Ambeau worked as a custodian at St. Theresa Catholic Church during the day and managed EA’s baseball and football teams in the afternoon. According to Watts, Ambeau’s mother drove him to and from work and then to and from EA practices and games every single day. He also travelled with the teams.
“He was an unbelievable human being,” said Watts. “The way he approached his job with meticulous care — never letting a bat or ball stay on the field and cleaning and preparing equipment — was unrivaled. He exemplified the love and tradition of baseball in this area.”
Watts was with Johnny when he died in September of 1997 at the age of 49. At the time, Ambeau had served as manager for the Spartan baseball and football teams for 30 years. East Ascension High named the baseball park in his honor, “Johnny Ambeau Park”.
Johnny’s influence on Spartan baseball continues. In fact, one of Watt’s favorite baseball memories was of another team manager, Ryan Babin. “He loved the game; maybe didn’t have quite the talent as the other players, but he was one of my most valuable players,” said Watts.
During his senior year, Watts placed Babin on the team roster with the intent to let him play in one game before he graduated. The last game of the season was against baseball powerhouse Catholic High School (CHS). In the top of the first inning, CHS scored nine runs. With a deficit that large, Watts faced the dilemma of either playing his starting lineup or keeping his promise to play Babin. He chose to keep his commitment and give Babin his dream opportunity to play the game he loved so much.
In the bottom of the first inning, down by nine runs with bases loaded and two outs, designated hitter and first time player Ryan Babin stepped up to the plate. He quickly amassed an 0-2 count and Watts thought that would be the end, but Babin surprised everyone by fouling off five pitches before earning a walk that scored the first run for the Spartans. And yet, that wasn’t the end of Babin’s first game. Later in the game, he stepped up to the plate with the same scenario. Once again, he fouled off pitch after pitch before earning a walk that scored a run. The Spartans went on to win the game 10-9.
“He battled like he was a warrior. It was one of the most unbelievable events. Every time he connected with the ball, the crowd would go wild. You would think it was the world series,” said Watts. “It made you feel good about what you were doing.”
FROM COACH TO PRINCIPAL
In 2002-03, an assistant principal position became open at EA. After 12 years of coaching, Watts decided to apply. “I loved coaching, but you look at your future and determine moves you should make to provide better opportunities for your family,” he said. Randy and Karla’s daughter, Kristen, was 11 and son Jamie had recently graduated from high school.
Watts believes his work ethic and collaborative relationship with the faculty made him a good fit for the position. “I always took my job seriously whether coaching, teaching or serving as a disciplinarian.”
He served three years as an assistant principal before being hired as principal of EA in 2005. During his five years leading the Spartans, EA implemented the block system to provide better opportunities for instructional time and implemented the Freshman Academy concept. Although EA recently opened a new Freshman Academy building, Watts was the first in the district to implement the concept of separating freshmen from upperclassmen both in classes and lunch shifts. This allowed for an easier transition to high school.
DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES
In 2010, new Superintendent Patrice Pujol hired Watts as the district’s Director of Human Resources when the former director, A. Denise Graves, became Assistant Superintendent.
“I was excited to work under Dr. Pujol, who I admired because she was always on the cutting edge and not scared to implement new things,” said Watts.
During almost a decade of leading the Human Resources Department for the largest employer in Ascension Parish, Watts believes his team has worked hard to be more innovative and work collaboratively with the Business Department to meet the budgetary needs of handling 3,000 employees on a daily basis.
The biggest challenge was overseeing 28 different sites where there are two bosses. “You have to maintain an open dialogue to ensure everyone is on the same page. The principal’s job is the hardest in the district because you have to deal with HR and business issues on top of running a school and taking care of children. My job was to assist them with compassion but also hold all accountable to law and policy,” said Watts.
One of the successes of his tenure was outsourcing substitute teachers and some support staff to Kelly Services. “Their candidates are pre-qualified through Kelly’s national education system and are trained on our hardware and software. Their system makes it easier for principals to quickly fill classroom needs. In fact the district’s substitute fill rate rose from 60 percent to 90 percent,” he said.
“When you are an organization as large as we are, you have to be willing to think outside of the box. This collaboration between HR and the Business Department paid off for our schools,” said Watts.
MENTORS AND RETIREMENT
According to Watts, he attributes the successes of his life and career to many mentors. The first was his father, James Watts, a war hero who taught him to respect people. A natural gas plant operator, he modeled a high work ethic and emphasized the importance of education.
He credits former coach Armand Castille, Mickey Mills and Sister Benata for giving him his first chance to teach and coach. He is also grateful to Juanita Bacala and Barrett Murphy for taking a chance on an outsider.
Watts feels blessed to have worked under multiple superintendents: Ralph Ricardo, Shelby Robert, Robert Clouatre, Patrice Pujol, A. Denise Graves and David Alexander. “All these superintendents trusted me enough to give me opportunities and put me in positions of leadership and trust. I wasn’t from Ascension Parish, but Ascension Parish embraced me and my family,” said Watts.
During his retirement, Watts plans to enjoy spending time at his camp on the water and doing some woodwork. “I want to relax and see how it feels,” he said.
For more information about Ascension Public Schools, visit www.apsb.org.