FRISCO, Texas – Longtime college athletics media relations administrator Lance Fleming of Abilene Christian University has been named the recipient of the Southland Conference’s 2019 Louis Bonnette Sports Media Award. The announcement was made Monday by Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett, who will present the award to Fleming during the league’s annual Football Media Day luncheon Thursday in Houston.
Fleming retired following the 2018-19 season after more than 20 years on the Wildcats’ staff. A native of Abilene, he graduated from ACU in 1992 and was a copy editor, sportswriter and news writer for both the Abilene Reporter-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal before returning to ACU in 1998. During his tenure, he chronicled hundreds of conference championships, dozens of NCAA Division II national titles and a successful transition to Division I that included last season’s chance to go “dancing” as both men’s and women’s basketball teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
According to colleague Chris Macaluso, “The daily professional challenges Fleming encountered became inconsequential in 2010 when his son, Rex, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began a two-year fight against cancer that he lost in 2012 at age 10. Rex told his parents prior to his first cancer surgery, ‘I’ll live to tell the story,’ and this fit perfectly within his father’s abilities as a sports information director. At his core, Fleming is a gifted and compassionate storyteller. He is kind and generous with his time, as he wants both current and former ACU coaches and student-athletes to feel pride in their participation as Wildcats.”
Fleming went back to work after Rex’s funeral doing just that and, additionally, he and his wife, Jill, honored their son as co-founders of the Play 4 Rex (P4X) Foundation. The Flemings and their organization have held numerous fundraisers, raising more than $500,000 since 2013 and making gifts of more than $400,000 to help other children and families affected by pediatric cancer.
“Lance Fleming has provided Abilene Christian athletics, the Southland Conference and the NCAA with expert communications work throughout his career, and it’s very appropriate to honor his career with the Bonnette Award,” Burnett said. “Lance’s efforts emulate the dedicated hard work of the previous award winners, as he tirelessly promoted the annual accomplishments of the ACU Wildcats, their coaches and student-athletes during his tenure. We are honored to add Lance’s name to this prestigious group of Bonnette Award recipients.”
Fleming has been an active member of CoSIDA, NACDA, the Football Writers Association of America, the Basketball Writers Association of America, and the National Collegiate Baseball Association. He will continue to be active with his alma mater as he moves into a new role as Director of Communications for the Abilene Independent School District.
“I am truly humbled to receive such a significant award, especially one named after a man that everyone in our profession – and especially in our league – has respected so much for so long,” Fleming said. “I’m so proud to have spent 21 years of my life in collegiate athletics, and blessed that all of them were spent at a place I dearly love: Abilene Christian University. The last six years of my collegiate athletics career were equal parts challenging and thrilling as we made the move to NCAA Division I affiliation and back to the conference that Abilene Christian helped to found in 1963.
“When we made them move in 2013, I was fortunate to find a group of people in the sports information field who took me in, showed me the ropes and befriended me as if I’d been part of the league for a number of years,” Fleming said. “Folks like Steve East (Central Arkansas), Doug Ireland (Northwestern State), Matthew Bonnette and Pam LaFosse (McNeese), James Dixon (Lamar), Paul Ridings (Sam Houston State) and others made the transition to the next level enjoyable from a personal and professional standpoint. We’ve had some great times over the years, and even though I’m no longer part of ACU Athletics on a daily basis, I look forward to those relationships throughout the league continuing.”
The accolade, named after longtime McNeese sports information director Louis Bonnette, is presented annually to an individual that has made outstanding contributions in the field of sports information, print journalism, broadcasting or other media focused on the Southland Conference and/or its member institutions. The Southland’s sports information directors, athletic directors and other university personnel, and outside media executives nominate individuals for the award, and the sports information directors make the final selection.
Fleming is the eighth recipient of the award. Previous winners include: Former sports editor and columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper (Conway, Ark.) David MCollum (2018); former Lamar play-by-play voice and TV personality Dave Hofferth (2017); Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director and Sports Information Director Doug Ireland (2016); former Daily Sentinel (Nacogdoches, Texas) Sports Editor Kevin Gore (2015); retired Sam Houston State Sports Information Director Paul Ridings (2014); southeast Texas sports journalist and retired Lamar Sports Information Director Rush Wood (2013).
Louis Bonnette was the first honoree in 2012. Bonnette enjoyed a storied career as the first McNeese SID, holding the position for 46 years. As SID, he boasted a national record of 516 consecutive Cowboy football games worked. He was inducted into the Southland Conference Hall of Honor in 2007 and the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame in 2009.