Faces of Texas
BY DAVID PURDUM
Kensley Miller and
Pine Tree Trio
IT HASN’T KICKED OFF YET, BUT FOR the Pine Tree Pirates, it’s already a story- book season, full of heart-warming charac- ters who are easy to cheer for.
It’s a story of a football coach challenging the
community’s fathers to be with their sons. It’s a
story of a student-athlete dealing with a family
tragedy that no child is prepared to handle. It’s
a story of a giant diamond in the rough. And it’s
a story that begins with the alarm going off in
the Pirates’ locker room.
“The alarm kept going off every day. I couldn’t
figure out what was going on,” recalled Pine View
coach Derek Fitzhenry. “Then, one of the coaches
said, ‘Coach, I think Robert’s in there sleeping. He
Pine Tree coach Derek Fitzhenry with seniors Samuel Stoker, Kensley Miller and Robert Hines.
doesn’t really have anywhere else to go.”
Robert Hines, a two-way starter for the Pi-
rates, had been rattling open the back door of
the locker room and sneaking in to sleep. His
mother in prison, Hines was homeless.
Fitzhenry changed that, but it took more than
one try. First, the coach offered to contact social
services. Having been down that road, Hines
declined. So Fitzhenry found him a job, working
cows for a local rancher named Charley Peck.
Hines had never been around cows, which
made his first day on the job eventful.
“The cows he was working were Watusie
cows, the African cows with the long straight-up
horns,” Fitzhenry explained. “They go out on his
first day, get out of the truck and start walking.
Charley looks back, and Robert’s standing on
top of the truck. Robert says, ‘Man, I don’t know
about these cows. They might bite me.’”
Hines overcame his Watusie fears and de-
veloped into a trusted employee on the ranch,
loved by his boss and co-workers.
Hines’ life at home, however, remained unstable. He was using the money he earned to
pay rent at a relative’s house. But the situation
would not last long and ended ugly. Soon, Hines,
with only a bag full of his few possessions, was
headed out on his own again.
Fitzhenry didn’t give up, though, and, with
Peck, continued to search for a home for Hines.
He eventually helped Hines move in with assistant coach Alton Hawkins, a local minister,
and his family. It was the start of a mutually
beneficial relationship and jump-started a remarkable transformation for Hines.
“I was telling Alton how much we appreciated
them helping with Robert,” said Fitzhenry, “and
he told me that it had been a blessing to his
kids. He said, ‘my kids had been spoiled and
they didn’t realize how tough it can be out there.
Robert’s kind of taught them some lessons.’”
Hines has blossomed with a stable home
environment. For the first time in his academic
career, he was eligible both semesters last year.
He started on the football and basketball teams
and has made remarkable academic strides.
“He’s making like A’s and B’s,” said Fitzhenry.
“He had never been eligible in his life. It’s really
an amazing turnaround.”
It’s an amazing coaching job, as well, one
that goes well beyond the sidelines. Tasked
with molding teenage boys, most who haven’t
had father figures in their lives, Fitzhenry has
challenged the men in the community to get
involved. His mentoring program, Game-Chang-
ers, has been a huge hit, but has also exposed
some extreme concerns and frustrations.
“I had 65 kids show up for this mentoring
program. I only had 10 dads show up,” said
Fitzhenry. “I had some other mentors show up,
like pastors, but only 10 dads. I sent it out to a
100 kids and dads. I’m only asking one day out
of the month to come be with your son, and I
got 10 dads.”
Fitzhenry’s frustration can be heard in the long-
time Texas coach’s grizzled voice, but you also
can hear the pride when he talks about the suc-
cess stories of his program. And there are plenty.