Lafayette and Iberia Parishes are mourning the loss of a man who helped lead schools in their districts for five decades.

Dave Cavalier died Monday at a Lafayette hospital. He was 81.

Cavalier was a native of Morgan City and a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana). He was a track and football star during his high school and collegiate years. As a halfback, Cavalier helped lead Morgan City High School to the 1957 Class 2A state football championship and to a quarterfinals appearance in 1958. Cavalier initially signed with Louisiana State University to play football. However, Cavalier he changed his commitment and accepted a scholarship to USL after he married his wife Ellen. Injuries hampered his career at USL, but under coaches Jim Hoggatt and Russ Faulkinberry, Cavalier learned how to play--and coach--every position on the field, setting himself up for his future career.

After graduating from USL in 1963, he joined the staff at Scott High School as a coach and as a math teacher. He started as an assistant coach under Luther Perrin, but Cavalier was soon promoted to head football and track coach. Under Cavalier's leadership, Scott won district football championships in 1967 and 1968 and won the state track championship in 1969, the school's final year of existence.

When the Lafayette Parish School Board consolidated the Scott and Judice high schools into Acadiana High, district leaders appointed Cavalier as the new school's first head football coach, track coach, and athletic director. Cavalier led the newly-formed Wreckin' Rams program to three straight winning seasons in its first three years and a district championship in 1970. Cavalier turned over his football and athletic director duties to Bill Dotson in the middle of the 1972 season so he could begin a new challenge in the field of education.

Cavalier stepped down from his athletic pursuits after Principal Amos Trahan appointed him as Acadiana High's assistant principal. Cavalier served in that role until January 1977, when he succeeded Trahan as Acadiana's principal. He served in that capacity for nine years.

"I tried to be fair and consistent with the kids," Cavalier told the Daily Advertiser in 1989. "I loved them and tried to give them 'tough love' like I do with my own kids. I really felt for them and their problems.

"I gave support to my teachers," Cavalier continued. "I let them do their jobs without breathing on them all the time. I was more a director than a boss."

In 1986, Cavalier said he made one of the most difficult choices of his life and embarked on a new journey away from Acadiana High. He applied for and was appointed to Iberia Parish schools superintendent position. He held the position until 1994. He stepped down after the board voted not to renew his contract. That vote happened despite the fact Cavalier helped the district improve its tax collection revenues and build a budget surplus despite the economic downturn caused by the oil industry collapse of the mid- to late-1980s. Cavalier and the school board used that money to rebuild and renovate most of the district's facilities. Ironically, Cavalier won the Louisiana Department of Education's Outstanding Educator and Superintendent of the Year awards that same year.

"It was very difficult for my family when we moved here in 1986 to become superintendent," Cavalier told the Daily Advertiser when he retired as superintendent. "It was devastating for them to move from the Scott area where we had lived so long. But this community opened its arms to us, and I feel there's no other place we'd rather live than New Iberia."

New Iberia is where Cavalier stayed for the rest of his career and his life.

After a brief stint working for the Louisiana Department of Education, Cavalier returned to school administration in 1995. That year, the Diocese of Lafayette appointed Cavalier to be the principal of Catholic High School. He became the first lay person to hold that position. He stayed at Catholic High until 2001. In 2004, Cavalier took over as principal of one of Catholic High's feeder institutions, St. Edward School. He retired from that role in 2010.

Although Cavalier left Acadiana High School and Scott 35 years ago, his legacy remains. Cavalier hired many of the coaches who helped lead the school to continued athletic successes, including Bill Dotson, Willard Hanks, Scott McCullough, Ted Davidson, Bobby Beane, and James Simmons. His grandson-in-law, Matt McCullough, is the current head football coach at Acadiana and has led the Wreckin' Rams to back-to-back state titles in 2019 and 2020. His great-grandson, Kaleb Cavalier, entered Wreckin' Ram lore in 2018 when he caught a Hail Mary pass to help Acadiana beat Ruston in 2018.

What's more: Cavalier selected the school's green-and-gold colors and selected the Wreckin' Ram as the school's mascot. He also assisted Acadiana High band director Earl J. Parquette in writing the lyrics to the Acadiana High fight song.

Cavalier's funeral is set for Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Nativity of Our Lady Catholic Church in New Iberia. Visitation will take place earlier that morning--from 10:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.--at Pellerin Funeral Home.

Cavalier is survived by his wife of 62 years Ellen, five children, 14 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and a brother.

Fantastic Places My Parents Shopped, But Are Gone Now

Lafayette TV Icons: Where Are They Now?

More From 97.3 The Dawg