May 5, 2022

When we were growing up we use to bury “time capsules” in a bottle in the backyard hoping someday 100 years from now somebody we never got to meet but nonetheless we cared deeply about would dig it up and find clues to their wonders about “who were we”?

Here are some of my clues about what “coaching”/competing has meant to me and tying it together with some of my reflections about my brother-in-law, Coach Rick Vicknair (married to my sister, Marie) who passed away this week.


Growing up, we were taught by the Sisters of Divine Providence and the priests that pastored us at St. Genevieve Catholic Church.  

The Biblical story that made a lasting impression on me was the “GOOD SAMARITAN”.  From various religious classes in school or sermons in Church it became one of my all-time favorites.  We were challenged to have EMPATHY and think of what we would want others to do for us if we were robbed and beaten and “thrown in a ditch”.

(1) The first perspective or lesson was to know that hard times and struggles and adversity can come your way in an instance, and in those moments we need the help of others.  

(2) Secondly, we were ask to think about the people who just walked by and kept on their schedule and showed indifference. We were taught that INDIFFERENCE to the concern of others just because we did not know them or that we were too busy was “NOT” a valid excuse. We came to learn that indifference or the failure to act was the total opposite of LOVE.  Indifference is the opposite of LOVE.  

(3) Third, we analyzed and discussed the different degrees of charity and came up with ideas of ACTION to get involved (see below). Just throwing somebody ”a couple of bucks“ may be the worst form of charity, while helping somebody become self-reliant and teaching/coaching them to COMPETE is the best and most meritorious gift. COMPETING IN SPORTS TEACHES EMPATHY!

(4) Lastly, we were challenged to consider “WHO IS OUR NEIGHBOR”? We understood that “neighbor” had nothing to do with proximity or who we liked or who was like us. NEIGHBOR was all encompassing; basically, all of human kind.

My dad, Rudolph Lotief, was an owner/operator of Shop Rite convenience stores from 1970-1988, where they expanded the number of stores from 2 to approximately 80.  

My mother, Barbara Saab Lotief, was also in the service industry – she ran a catering business in Lafayette doing primarily weddings & rehearsal dinners & Christmas parties.  My paternal uncle, Cecil Lotief, is a Catholic priest and a PHD Professor in Music at the University level; my father-in-law, Chuck Whitton, coached recreational & select fastpitch softball in the Friendswood/South Houston area; my brother-in-law, Rick Vicknair, was the long time Northside High School wrestling and football coach; my brother, Stephen “Tank” Lotief, is a long time high school and wrestling coach with stops at Northside, North Vermillion, Notre Dame, etc.; my wife, Stefni, started fastpitch select /travel ball softball in the Lafayette area in 1994 with the start of the Louisiana Image and then coached the U.L. Softball team from 2000-2013.

From one family, and the same generation: over 120 years of coaching in Acadiana communities. Stefni Lotief, coached in the neighborhood league, then select fastpitch (LA. Image) & UL Softball. Stephen ”Tank” Lotief, coached wrestling and football at numerous stops, most notably Northside, Notre Dame, North Vermillion & Kaplan. Rick Vicknair (married to Marie Lotief Vicknair) was the longtime defensive coordinator, head football coach, athletic director and wrestling coach at Northside High School & finished his coaching career at Notre Dame High School. Michael Lotief, coached football, baseball, basketball in the neighborhood league before joining his wife, Stefni, coaching fastpitch softball.



I started coaching little league/12U football on the north side of Lafayette, LA. in a neighborhood called L.E.Y.S.A. – Lafayette East Youth Sports Association.

From 1980-1995, I spent my spare time coaching, mostly in the LEYSA neighborhood.  We did everything: we coached the team; we did after school study hall and tutoring; we raised money; we drove the players to and from practice and games; we maintained the fields; we bought and cared for the equipment, etc., etc., etc.  At or about the same time, Rick Vicknair begin coaching high school football at Northside High School and a lot of the same kids I coached eventually ended up going to Northside.

Anybody ever watch the movie: HARDBALL? Same exact story- we all got drawn into our player’s tough and sometimes tragic lives.  It was as much our responsibility as it was our joy to get the players new uniforms or championship t-shirts, or hosting an end of the year banquet to recognize each player’s value and contributions.

Winning is ”fun”; going to the ”SHIP” is the goal; playing a fatherly/older brotherly role in somebody’s life is so rewarding. Teaching others about devotion, discipline, purpose, competing, battling the odds, believing in their dreams, discounting the naysayers, never quitting, betcha can is the REAL GOAL.

What Rick did at Northside paralleled with what we were doing at LEYSA – day after day after day: raising money, buying & trying to upgrade the equipment, maintaining the fields, running the concession stands and most of all, trying to make a difference in the lives of our players.

Basically, trying to MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE in a world that is becoming increasingly INDIFFERENT & divided — trying to serve ”others” who we had no relation to or who, like the Good Samaritan, were totally different than us. Serving, coaching, teaching, competing for the pure joy of coaching, serving, teaching & competing without regard to race, gender, religion, social status or any other false label that are used just to divide us.

Our teams always had the ratty uniforms/equipment while the other teams had brand new gear every year but we always had the better rhythm and the best chants and the best dance moves.

The great thing about TEAM sports is that no matter what the dominant part of your personality is, there will be a place for you on the football field or the softball field or the basketball court.  We had street fighters; we had cocky linebackers and running backs; we had take charge centers, catchers & point guard; we had critical thinkers – QBs, SSs; we had protectors – mamas or worriers; – all of these personalities have a place in competitive athletics.  

Another fascinating aspect of sports is to watch the development and the maturation as you watch a player’s role grow within the team and the more the player brings to the table, the more the team finds ways to accommodate the new parts of that players energy and contributions.  

But even more, each player learns to take on different roles at various times as you go through a season and in doing so gets to find and expand new personality traits that make them more confident and stronger and more competitive and better suited to find ways to adapt to changing situations.

We made sure that the players knew that if they struggled then they had the person next to them to pick them up.  It works both ways: because that very same player who was “picking up” somebody else, knew that there would be a time when they too struggled and needed somebody to pick them up or carry them or to lean on.  

There was always the understanding that each individual had to work hard to get better and improve day after day – and that WE/TEAM were bigger than any individual and that it was imperative that we show how much we respect and care about the people around us; especially all of the GOOD SAMARITANS that ”stopped” to help.


It was Coach Rick Vicknair’s vocation and pledge to everyone of his players, that he was willing to do EVERYTHING HE COULD to help them succeed and chase their dreams – whether that meant staying after practice or showing up early, coming up to the field ANY TIME to help somebody struggling even if it was his day off or he was at dinner with his family.

Prayers for my sister, Marie Lotief Vicknair and her son, Jacob. Gratitude to all of Coach Vicknair’s former players for giving it your all and competing while doing your very best. PASS ON to the next generation what it means to show devotion and discipline to their endeavors and to have empathy for others! Share a good memory and story about Coach Vicknair to keep his ”spirit” of working hard and having pride to make a positive difference at Northside when plenty others showed indifference.

Helping others involved watching video til late at night &/or early in the morning to figure out a plan and a solution to help the player succeed in the next practice or the next game. Helping others went beyond the actual game or practice: it was going grocery shopping and cooking team meals and hauling the food to the stadium and serving it to each team member so they could have a good home cook meal every week.  It was paying for players to go to summer school out of his own pocket.

Rick served others his whole life. He did it willingly and selflessly. He NEVER ”walked by” one of those kids in need, ever. Indifference for others was never an option. Empathy for others was in his D.N.A. – it was what made his heart full and his life joyful.


As coaches, we all know the challenge involves lots of highs & lows but we as coaches wanted to make sure our players knew that we cared about them, that we wanted them to succeed, and that we were there to invest in their growth and development both as players and people.  We wanted to make sure when a teammates mind said “I cannot do this anymore”, we were there to say, YES YOU CAN; lean on US; we will get you through this and it will make you stronger and better.

Coach Vicknair had a caring heart for his players for over 40 years. Many of us leaned on him for strength and encouragement during moments of doubt. He made sure we all came through struggles and challenges stronger, better and wiser.

May God grant him peace & serenity and make his soul to shine like the sun.


It is through the game and the journey through the season that we learn the importance of relationships and TEAM and US.  

#33 Lacey Bertucci in 2004 celebrating a home run and 12 years later in 2016, another #33, Lexi Elkins celebrating another home run.

Team sports are unique in that there is as much laughter and cheering as there are diving and lifting weights and sweating; always a combination of intensity and light heartedness; camaraderie and the opportunity to discover a deep sense of one’s self combined with lifetime friendships.  

Empathy to me is about character and perspective and moral courage.

Empathy is seeing someone “wronged” and trying to right it; seeing someone “suffering” and trying to heal it; seeing someone’s dreams and potential and trying to help them ACHIEVE IT; setting high goals & seeing them through; helping someone figure out how to honor their commitment.

Empathy is providing HOPE FOR OTHERS. Instead of seeing challenges and ASKING WHY, dream of things that have never been and ask WHY NOT.

Providing HOPE helps others see endless possibilities and opportunities at every door.  Every time we stand up for good ideas and beliefs that are just, & every time we live by a standard of EXCELLENCE, it sends forth tiny ripples of HOPE that can inspire others.  

  • When we LEAN IN or STAND UP or choose COURAGE over indifference and over being timid and passive;
  • when we pick adventure rather than a life of ease and comfort;
  • when we accept responsibility rather than being a victim;
  • when we search for meaning and purpose in our lives versus just seeking out our pleasures or just doing what feels good;
  • when we care for our sisters and brothers and help her/him to become the best version of themselves;
  • when we show EMPATHY FOR OTHERS, we sow seeds for a better tomorrow.  
  • When we work hard day by day to get better versus accepting the status quo;
  • when we care about the well-being of those around us versus only worrying about ME;
  • when we commit to the CLIMB, to the long term JOURNEY up the mountain rather than just worrying about short cuts or the easy way out;
  • when we become part of a TEAM; part of a “sisterhood’/”brotherhood”, part of a community;
  • when we show EMPATHY FOR OTHERS and come TOGETHER, we become an irresistible force than can accomplish or overcome ANYTHING. 

I SEE the parallels between competing in SPORT & so many other challenges in life; whether it be battling CANCER or a broken marriage or being down on your luck or whatever adversity it is that “puts us in the ditch” needing others to help. Life is a JOURNEY; a journey of personal growth and spiritual awakening.  

I believe we all have the opportunity to learn to think and act on a deeper level.  I also believe we can CHANGE how we think and act.  We control how we think and act and we all can grow from MEDIOCRITY TO EXCELLENCE. 

The “Ladder of Benevolence” by Nathan Whiting uses the eight degrees of charity. The list goes from the the least valuable to the most – teaching somebody to be SELF-RELIANT is the most meritorious of all the degrees of charity. He wrote, “the eighth and most meritorious of all is to anticipate charity by PREVENTING POVERTY, namely, to assist the reduced brother by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business, so he can earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity”.

There is a BIG difference between COMPETING & PLAYING.  In recreational sports, the goal or purpose is to make the player FEEL GOOD; IOW, the player should FEEL better afterwards than when they got there – so everything in a recreational environment is geared that way: everybody gets to play a minimum of 2 innings, do not keep score, pool play, everybody gets their way, the social connections are way more valued than the competitive experience. JUST FEEDING SOMEBODY FOR THE DAY, GIVING THEM A FISH, WITHOUT ANY TEACHING OR LEARNING OR GROWING.

BUT COMPETING involves accepting the responsibility for the goal of winning.  The athletic experience is about reaching goals, mastering a skill, growing and developing both as a person and a player everyday through competition which does involve failure & struggle & adversity.  TEACHING A MAN OR WOMAN TO FISH SO THEY CAN EAT FOR A LIFETIME. Development occurs by competing and finding a way to win. The competitive mindset is able to go to work to LEARN, GROW & DEVELOP.  

These are just a handful of the notable men who learned how to ”compete” through athletics and under the influence from and by Coach Vicknair – the first 5 at Northside High School, some in both wrestling and football and Jake at Notre Dame High School, where Rick volunteered after he retired.

Starting at the top left: Adam Bob, linebacker at Texas A&M and NY Jets; Daniel Cormier, wrestled for the U.S.A. in the Olympics and won World Championships in MME; Jarrod Shaw, offensive lineman at TN & Cleveland Browns; bottom left: Jermaine Martin, wide receiver/H.O.F. McNeese and professionally in the C.F.L.; Bryson Bernard a.k.a Cupid & the Cupid Shuffle, college track & field, now singer/song writer; Jake Molbert, linebacker at U.L.


We know that sports is JUST A GAME. It creates an “artificial environment with skills that you can do or not do” – so it tests your athletic ability & in that artificial environment with stats & sportswriters and individual awards given to the best players, it CREATES EMOTIONS THAT ARE INCREDIBLY REAL AND REVELEALING.  THE GAME IN SOME WAYS DEMONSTRATE WHO WE ARE & WHERE WE ARE.  

You can be powerful on the field yet be kind and Christian off of the field.  In fact, learning how to compete on the field will allow you the chance to be a GOOD SAMARITAN to others by passing on those values of competition and teaching somebody else “HOW TO FISH” & to be SELF-RELIANT —and that is the most meritorious of all the degrees of charity.

Thanks to Coach Rick Vicknair & all those mentioned herein (my mom and dad, my wife and father-in-law, my brother & sister, my teachers, coaches, the Sisters & the Priests) who taught us “how to compete” and then to ”show empathy” by their vocations and actions and service to others.


About the Author

Mike Lotief coached 17 successful years as either the head softball coach or co-head softball coach with his wife Stefni Whitton Lotief at the University of Louisiana from 2002-2017 with an overall coaching record of 731-176 (80.6 winning percentage). Every season, the Ragin Cajuns softball team advanced to the NCAA tournament and also advanced to three (3) Women’s College World Series (2003, 2008, 2014) and from 2012-2016 advanced to five (5) straight NCAA Super Regionals. Coach Lotief produced over 40 All American selections and his 2017 team lead the nation in scoring and was ranked in the Top 10 in home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage.

The coach is a cancer survivor (twice) and was the first person in the U.S. to receive the Pro Trach device. Mike and Stefni spearheaded and raised the funding to build the new softball stadium in 2009 and the new softball indoor hitting facility in 2015. They are proud parents to Chelsea, who played softball and graduated from the Univ. of Louisiana in 2018, and Andrew, who is a junior at Louisiana studying Mechanical Engineering.

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