“Pajarito,” Richardson get national acclaim ©

by Ray Sanchez

 

The recent Bert Williams/Nolan Richardson local story about how they helped improve civil rights in El Paso was re-told with added twists in Sports Illustrated last month.

 

The article told of when Williams and Richardson went into the Oasis Restaurant in El Paso and Richardson was denied service because he was black. Later, in 1962 while working in the city attorney’s office, Williams sketched out an anti-discrimination ordinance. Mayor Ralph Seitsinger vetoed it but “Williams led a unanimous override,” the article states.

 

The article points out how it was precursor to greater things – including the ability for UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins to sign Jim Barnes and other black athletes and win a national title.

Williams later was elected mayor. As for Richardson, he went on to become one of El Paso’s greatest athletes and a super NCAA basketball coach.

And what a sweet story that is.

 

HERE’S A CUTE sidenote in the article: I always wondered how Williams got his nickname of “Pajarito.” That’s “Little Bird” in Spanish.

Williams, a good enough athlete to have played basketball for UTEP, grew up among and playing with Hispanics. When Hispanics heard his first name was Bert they thought they were hearing the word “Bird” and the nickname of “Pajarito” was born.

By the way, Williams is scheduled to visit today (Sunday) with Bill Chesak and other old athletic friends from 5 to 8 p.m. at Rita’s Texas Bar and Grill on North Mesa.

 

ANOTHER sidenote, this a little more personal: I can brag that I gave Richardson his first writeup. I was a rookie sports writer when Little League baseball started in El Paso. Richardson, just nine years old, was an instant star. And when he hit a homerun to win a game, I wrote about it in the El Paso Herald-Post. I still have the article.

You can imagine what a thrill it was to see him grow into the success that was to come.

 

TRIVIA QUESTION: How many conference basketball championships has UTEP won? Answer at end.

 

EL PASO’S Flip Lyle is still running like a champ in his 60s. In fact, he is now the 60 to 64 age group champion of the 2009 Southwest Challenge Series, a decathlon and triathlon championship. It’s the largest and oldest decathlon and triathlon series in the world. He’s been champion 15 times.

Lyle has competed in 376 multi sport events including 283 triathlons and 93 decathlons.

He’s now being considered for induction into the 2010 Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, his Tennessee hometown.

‘Bout time. Shucks, the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame inducted him four years ago.

 

JACKIE HARRIS, who passed away last month, was one of the most energetic and devoted contributors to the El Paso sports scene I ever met.

He was a charter board member of the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame and also served on the board of directors of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame. He was one of those members who attended meetings, delivered tickets and did some of the other less glamorous but necessary chores.

He had been quite a baseball player himself and was inducted into the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

 

HERE’S WHAT some who knew Harris have said:

Mike Barrueta, president of the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame: “Jackie was special to all of us. We will all miss him.”Former teammate Juan Sandoval: “What a great player and person. I will miss him.”

 

Former teammate Bob Aguirre: “We will miss not only a great player but one of the kindest persons ever.  The Good Lord has added one more great shortstop to His hall of fame. Good job, Jackie, you're one of the finest.”

 

ANSWER to trivia question: Eleven, with one under coach Marshall Pennington, two under coach George McCarty, seven under coach Don Haskins and one under coach Billy Gillespie.

 

Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column. Contact him at (915) 584-0626, by e-mail at rayf358@yahoo.com or online at www.raysanchezbooks.com