Cities have been adorned with the female moniker since before John Neely Bryan founded Dallas in November 1841. Often you'll hear a city like "Big D," Chicago or New York or Chicago referred to as a "her" or attached to the phrase "She's my city." But every respectable girl needs a mister and for Maypearl, there may no better than Clinton Holley. If you've ever been to anything minor or majorly sports related in the city, you know the most recognizable face on any campus or among the masses wearing red, black and white is Holley's — whether he's dressed in basketball, baseball, football or volleyball garb.
"Clint is Maypearl. It doesn't matter if it's a high school boys' or girls' team game, a band event or a pep rally, he's always been there for the kids. There's not a bigger supporter in the city and you can see it in the way he treats each game like it's a major sporting event," said Brian Bilbrey, the Maypearl High School Panthers’ head baseball coach.
He said Holley's been to more than 1,000 middle school, freshman, junior varsity and varsity games, band events and non-athletic school functions in the five years he's been associated with the ISD and misses only those that fall on events where Dallas and Ellis County ISD schools specially request him to perform. Outside of those handfuls of occasions, "Mr. Maypearl" is the Panthers' biggest fan at home and away games regardless of rain, sleet or shine.
Others say he's been to almost 10,000-or-more such events.
The requests are what he's most known for, though, as well as the halftime shows he performs throughout Ellis County — from Midlothian to Ennis and Red Oak to Italy. While the action on the court is what draws the crowds, watching the 5-foot dynamo's amazing accuracy is a not-so-far-away second act.
From the second teams head to the locker room for halftime adjustments to the moment they return, Holley's graceful smile and upbeat attitude attract attention like moths to a flame. They are the real reasons it's hard not to love the man standing before you proudly wearing his customary — and favorite — Panther jersey.
It was only a girls' preseason basketball game, but, to him, it was like Maypearl was set to play for a state title against defending champion Wall High School. To Holley, nothing in that moment could have been more important or vital.
At least that's how he approached it.
"How many do you think I'm going to hit today?" Holley asked, smiling innocently while tossing his instrument of thrill in the air and gingerly catching it with both hands. "I'll bet you it's five shots."
He stuck his hand out to seal the not-so-silent wager, pausing to giggle at the other's unfortunate misfortune and call for a ball to take a couple of practice shots so he could make good on the friendly bet.
After more than 10 years, his routine was nearly elementary.
Holley counted his steps — 10 in total — away from the solid line painted in the middle of the MHS Gymnasium hardwood floor. He juggled the ball from hand to hand gauging both the distance, force and velocity necessary to accomplish a feat recent ESPN statistics said only happens once in 100 times.
Then, suddenly, he took off, his short stubby legs churning with all the fury of an Earl Campbell touchdown run. Holley launched a two-handed toss to the heavens, only to watch it clang harmlessly off the front of the rim.
His next two shots missed their mark, hitting the backboard and the rim's left side. He stared up and gazed at the basket as to say, "Well, I can hit seven in a row now. That will make up for the three misses."
He did his little pre-shot jig, pumped up the crowd and sunk his fourth half-court heave — nothing but net. His next four would fall the same way, sealed by Michael Jordan-like fist pumps after each. His potential debtor jammed his hands in his pocket, muttered something under his breath and shuffled his feet nervously at the idea that he may not be able to crawfish out of a bet with Mr. Maypearl.
To his relief, the 10th and final shot swirled around the rim's diameter and careened out, eliciting an audible "aww" from all in attendance but one. Holley looked over his shoulder, shot the man with the badge a quick glance and an eerily mysterious smile, picked a basketball and heaved a final Herculean shot five steps behind and three steps to the left of his sweet spot.
"Almost," he chuckled. "I almost had you."
Outside of an almost ridiculous 6-for-11 (54.5 percent) shooting and behind his kind eyes lies the actual reason he's as respected and beloved as any city official, policeman, fireman or first responder. Holley, MHS Principal Leslie Austin said, escaped the jaded view of the world that can plague adults.
"He can't see when people are being mean to him — we try to make sure that doesn't happen, but you can't protect everybody from everything — but if they are, he doesn't let it get him down. He's not jaded with the ways of the world and the way it can treat you," Austin said as she straightened herself in her chair and pulled her jacket tight around her body to warm herself from the frigid temperature of her meticulously neat office. "What's important about Clint is that he's a gentle soul. When he does the halftime shows, he's not just entertaining Maypearl fans. Most of the districts we've played in know who he is and support him. Every time he sees you he's going to tell you, ‘God loves you.' How he accepts and loves all people contributes to the ambiance of the city and what we strive to be as a community that welcomes all people."
The known but sometimes forgotten factor in the equation of the 36-year-old Holley's fandom is the disability that keeps him from behind the wheel of a car. It also kept the former Italy resident from attending "regular" high schools and instead relegated him to life skills classes.
It's a condition known well by Carter Vaughan, a congregational and outreach minister at the Maypearl Church of Christ and Holley's life-long friend. He is also one of the dozen residents that offer rides and transportation to preseason, regular season and playoff games, regardless of the distance.
Vaughan said Maypearl ISD Superintendent Richie Bowling, who also makes as many games as he is able, is a big reason why Holley can attend the games.
As auspicious as their meeting was — Holley went to Happy Days Day Care Center in Maypearl just like Vaughan's sons did — the insertion of religious belief enhanced their bond and the younger man's impact on any and every person he touches.
"Goodness, I've known him for most of his life,” Vaughan said, pausing to scratch his salt-and-pepper beard and muse about his relationship with Holley. "We met through the church and through that bond we serve the Lord together. He has Down syndrome and I don't know if there are varying degrees of that, but he functions well and is pretty smart. He can memorize scripture better than most people you'll come across."
Holley also works at the church on Thursday mornings. For the last 12 years, he has volunteered one week a year at a children's camp near Lake Murray State Park in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Vaughan added Holley is a high-functioning adult with Down syndrome not in spite of the community, but because of their love, support and embrace of the man affectionately referred to as Mr. Maypearl by thousands of children, teenagers, and adults in the 952-square miles that make up the county of Ellis.
It is not so for every person diagnosed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Down syndrome, discovered by the English physician John Langdon Down in 1862, is found in one in every 700 babies — about 600 per year — in the United States. It is the most common chromosomal condition, meaning that instead of the usual 46 chromosomes present in each cell during a baby's birth, there is an extra 47th cell of those diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Though there are three types — trisomy 21 (nondisjunction), translocation and mosaicism — trisomy 21 is the most common and accounts for 95 percent of cases.
Most children with Down Syndrome develop the communication skills they need, albeit a bit longer compared to others. They can experience short attention spans, poor judgment, impulsive behavior, slow learning and delayed language and speech development. Those effects can persist into adulthood, too.
If you take a minute to shake Holley's hand, though, you'd never see a trace of the steps it took him to become Mr. Maypearl. You'd only see the smiling face staring back at you and a toothy grin and an outstretched hand of a man that has a mind more intelligent than you'd expect with that type of disorder.
His mind, according to Austin, is as sharp as a steel trap.
"I didn't step foot in the city for a good seven years," she said. "He remembered my name the minute I came back. Not only could he remember my name, but he also remembered that I ran cross-country and could recall specific meets and times. It was unbelievable. That's who Clint is. He genuinely loves the community. That means anyone that comes and visits us or vice versa. In the end, Clint gets that it's about kids and community. It's not just Maypearl. It's the whole makeup of what it means to be a part of a school."
Austin graduated in 1997, returned to the city in 2004 and began her career as an educator and cross-country coach. Since returning to the Panthers' den, Austin has risen to the position of principal.
In about the same frame of time, Holley, who attended a co-op school in Italy at a time before Ellis County integrated the special needs community with the high school populous, went from Italy Gladiator fan to Maypearl Panther fan after transitioning to the city around the age of 18 years old.
Vaughan said Holley even roots for Maypearl against Italy now.
"What's funny is he has friends in all these other little towns we play even though he'll tease them about how Maypearl is about to beat them," Vaughan said. "All of those other people are his best friends, too — before, during and after the game. Sometimes, in the world we live in, competition makes us act as not as good to other people as we should. It brings out the best in Clint. We once took him up to a Celina High School Bobcat playoff football game when they were the cream of the crop 10 or 15 years ago. We were sitting up in the stands and the next thing we know, he's wearing a Bobcat hat on the sideline and blowing the big horn they sound when they score a touchdown. We just marvel at how he's able to do things people are scared to try. There's no fear in Clint."
In Avalon, Ennis, Grandview, Italy, Kaufman, Keene, Maypearl, Midlothian, Mildred, Palmer, Red Oak and Waxahachie there are rivalries present that are historical and deeply brooded. Holley expands those borders and transcends angst.
He's also never uttered a bad word or negative statement against anyone in more than 36 years on the planet. To Vaughan, it's one of the most remarkable traits of the many that define his friend.
"He displays love for everybody. There's no one he doesn't love," Vaughan said with a smile, his voice shaking as he finished the statement. "Sometimes I'll tease with him and try to get him to say something bad about me or somebody else and he refuses and redirects the conversation. He will never say a bad thing about anyone. He'll always tell you, 'I love you, but God loves you more.' He's an encouragement to show love to everyone regardless of color, race or gender. To Clint, there are no differences from one person to another."
Holley is accepted as a brother and a friend in every city he decides to step his foot in, regardless of how far the distance is from where his heart is.
History has proven otherwise in other corners of the world.
During much of the 20th century, it was commonplace in Europe and North America to place people with Down syndrome into institutions. In the latter, it was common to discourage their survival as infants, particularly if they experienced heart problems or intestinal blockages.
This kind of discriminatory practice was undoubtedly the driving force behind campaigns such as the 1999 United Kingdom Down Syndrome Association’s Health Alert campaign.
Per an article published by the BBC on June 4, 1999, the campaign sparked after the Down Syndrome Association found children were dying because of "failure to identify and evaluate problems in the first few weeks of birth that had catastrophic consequences without corrective surgery." Those children were not given heart surgery, despite being at high risk of heart defects.
Ask anyone in Maypearl about the man with the frighteningly precise mid-court jumper — from photographers Jason Gann and Jerome Stewart to coaches like Bilbrey, Jim Wood and Greg Kudrna to former and current players like Dakota Boll, Abby Frame, Miles Smith and Tanir Horton. To them, Holley is as essential to how the city functions as its mayor, Adele Mooney.
"He's the first one in line and the loudest in the crowd," Bilbrey said. "When I got here I realized that everybody knows him, from the teams that come from outside of the county to the ones right next to us. THEY go out of their way to greet him even though they know how passionate he is for the Panther and Lady Panther teams. That's amazing when can you have a Grandview coach or fan come up and give him a hug minutes before one of the biggest rivalries in the area. The love for Maypearl and Maypearl athletics begins and ends with Clint Holley."
---- Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.