dedicated to discovering all that is authentically amarillo
current issuecurrent issue
Features - Posted October 27, 2017 10:36 a.m.
photo
Contributed photos

Amarillo’s Greatest Sports Fan

more resources
Share This: Bookmark and Share

Chances are, if you have been to a youth sporting event in the past few decades, you will have noticed a few things: Brightly colored shirts sporting the team colors and logo, parents and grandparents in the stands, lots of cheering, drinks waiting for thirsty athletes, and a man on the sidelines whose name is Patrick Harris.

On a cool fall afternoon, I walked into the cafeteria at Tascosa High School around 3:15 p.m. It was raining heavily and my shoes created a muddy mess on the tile. The custodians were tidying up, wiping down tables, and getting ready for the student body to return the following day. I was greeted with a warm smile and a wave and spotted John Smith, the Principal of Tascosa. I explained to him that I was there to interview another employee, and he promptly directed me to a bench where Patrick Harris sat. Harris had just finished his day working the cash register in the cafeteria. He sat holding a tattered Tascosa High School yearbook from 1976 and several old photos dating back to 1984.

I asked where he would feel most comfortable talking, and he directed me to the library, where we settled in on that rainy day to visit about his favorite topic: sports. I wanted to know more about him and how he ended up being such a visible fixture at youth sporting events. He took a deep breath and humbly began telling his story.

He told me how he moved to Amarillo from Hackensack, New Jersey, in 1971. He, his dad, and his four brothers – he was the middle child – packed up a vehicle on their way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, after his mother passed away. Harris was 12 when his mother died, and he reminisced sadly as he described the “green coroner’s truck” that drove his mother away that day in 1968. It was difficult after she died, he said, because his dad worked a lot to try to raise his boys, and they didn’t have a lot of supervision. Wanting the best for his children, his dad loaded up an old Dodge and a U-Haul and headed toward New Mexico to live with Harris’s aunts and uncles, who had lived there since the ’50s. “We took everything but the TV and encyclopedias,” he said. “It took us three days and two breakdowns before we made it to Amarillo.”

Also having aunts and uncles in the Texas Panhandle, the Harris boys made a stop before moving on to New Mexico. Turns out they never left.

That December was tough and the Harris family didn’t have much of a Christmas. They stayed with Harris’s maternal grandparents, and before long they settled in. Soon after, Harris enrolled in Carver Elementary School. Amarillo became home. Harris wasn’t involved in sports as he continued his education at Sam Houston Jr. High and Tascosa High School, but that was about to change.

“I graduated in 1976 and just spent time riding my bicycle when I wasn’t working. One afternoon I didn’t have much to do, so I went to check things out at San Jacinto Park,” said Harris. “Amarillo Parks and Recreation was set up and kids were all over the place. I just asked them if I could help out, and they let me.” Harris kept showing up at the park whenever he could, “just helping with the kids.”

One Saturday afternoon, a boy stopped Harris in the neighborhood and asked if he would take him to the park, so he did. “I heard a lot of noise, and what I saw was unbelievable.” Harris described the scene with a serene smile on his face as he recalled the tee-ball and softball games taking place that day. “I was amazed at all the parents just sitting around cheering on their kids,” he said. “I hadn’t ever seen anything like it, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”

Harris found himself riding his bike a couple of years later to Avondale Park, where a friend was umpiring a softball game. His friend solicited his help that day, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1982 Harris became an assistant coach for a group of fourth-grade girls and their Avondale softball team. “I was just being there for the kids and the parents,” Harris said. “I started off by just passing out lollipops to the team who won, and I did that for years.” The kids and parents began noticing Harris, and most began accepting him as a permanent fixture at games around town. “I helped coach mostly girls softball and boys football for the kids who went to Avondale,” he said.

Harris has been attending youth sporting events for the past 42 years. In fact, he is a regular at so many games, that it seems everywhere a game is being played, he is there. I remember seeing Harris 30-plus years ago at Paramount Park, when I was in elementary school playing softball. He stood behind the backstop with a bag of Dum Dums, waiting for the winning team to collect their reward. He purchased the lollipops out of his own pocket, did it on his own time, and showed up every Saturday to offer support and a smile. As a kid, I don’t recall ever wondering why he was there, I just knew he always was. I hadn’t seen him in more than two decades.

Fast forward 25 years, and I’m sitting in the stands, cheering on McCall, my daughter, at her first Kids Inc. volleyball game. A man with a familiar gait strolled through the gym, and I immediately recognized him, standing on the sidelines, moving from game to game, just watching and cheering. My mother leaned into me and said, “That guy used to be at all of your and your brother’s games when you were little.” I smiled with remembrance, giving it little thought. But then I began to pay closer attention when I saw him each weekend at the games. I noticed that about every third athlete or parent that walked by cheerfully greeted him with a hearty, “Hey, Patrick!” and he always replied with a delighted, “Hey, there. How ya doin’?” I casually asked a few parents next to me who he was, but they all shrugged their shoulders and gave a nonchalant, “I’m not sure, but I always see him” response.

A few years went by, along with many more Kids Inc. games, and then our family was a part of the club volleyball scene, and spending a large majority of our free time at the Amarillo Netplex youth sports complex. And not surprisingly, Harris was there, too. Smiling, walking around, cheering, high-fiving. I couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to know many of the kids and people always spoke to him, but it was always in passing. He cheered for each kid and each team and never showed favoritism. Jess Evers, owner and director of JET Volleyball, has become accustomed to seeing Harris at every game. “I see many parents and grandparents that come out and support [the kids] every day,” she told me. “Patrick has become a permanent fixture at Netplex, and our athletes know he is there to support them.”

I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. So recently, at a Tascosa High volleyball game, I sat next to Harris and asked him if he’d grant me an interview. We set an appointment for that rainy fall day and spent the next hour talking about his love of sports and his amazement at how, through sports, Amarillo pours inspiration and encouragement into the lives of young people. When I asked why he did it, he just simply said, “I like to help [the] best I can. To me, it shows that Amarillo is a good place to live for these kids.”

Now that Netplex is a part of the community, Harris is able to pack his weekends full of volleyball games. I couldn’t help but ask which sport he preferred, though he had already told me he had attended literally thousands of games over the years. He wrapped his fingers around each other, bowed his head a bit, smiled and said, “To be honest, it’s volleyball.”

I’d say that’s putting it mildly. “[Harris] is by far our biggest fan at JET Volleyball … and is an energetic, competitive, selfless man who attends every tournament simply to enjoy the environment of athletics,” said Evers.

I would agree. After 42 years of frequenting Amarillo’s parks and gymnasiums, you would be hard-pressed to find another person who has supported youth sports nearly as much. Though these days he sticks mainly to volleyball and basketball, you may see him at other venues. I encourage you, the next time you are cheering on a game, to shake hands with Patrick Harris. Chances are, he’ll be there, and guaranteed – he’ll be clapping and cheering as loudly as anyone else in the stands.

by Erin Matthews

Erin is a curriculum specialist for AISD. She lives with her husband, David, and their two daughters, McCall (14) and Grace (11).
blog comments powered by Disqus
recent stories

How to Transform Every Day Life
You can be the one uplifting voice that turns someone else's day around. In doing ...

Let the Good Times Roll
Recipe courtesy of Kristi and Gary Aragon, and Becky McKinley, Two Knives Catering/Our Daily Bread

Amarillo’s Greatest Sports Fan
After 42 years of frequenting Amarillo’s parks and gymnasiums, you would be hard-pressed to find ...

Paying Dividends
We look at some of Amarillo’s most successful multi-generational businesses.

@AmarilloMag