In this climate of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents often wonder if their children are going back to school and if so, when? Their next question is will they play sports again? There is hope things will go back to normal with January being the target date. The class of 2021 will have missed half their senior year, time they cannot get back.
TJ Parks grew up in abject poverty, so he shudders to think of where he would be in life without an education, and his ability to play basketball in high school. TJ comes from an athletic family: His uncle, Dave Parks is Texas Tech royalty — he’s one of five players to have his name inscribed on Jones AT&T Stadium.
Dave Parks was the first overall selection of the 1964 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was one of only three people to be drafted No. 1 as a wide receiver, alongside Irving Fryar in 1984 and Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. He would be named to the Pro Bowl three times and be named first-team All-Pro twice in his career.
TJ Parks grew up the seventh of seven kids in Tucumcari. High school was easy for him. He never really thought much about going to college. He was a good student in high school, but never really applied himself and if it wasn’t for sports, he might not have graduated.
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TJ Parks played basketball and competed against New Mexico Military Institute in the district. He was recruited by Gary Cardinal who was the NMMI Junior College coach. Cardinal left NMMI in July 1976, and Dave “Soupy” Campbell came in August 1976 with some of his own players. Former NMMI Athletic Director Derry Moore’s in-laws lived next door to TJ Parks in Tucumcari at the time and took an interest in him.
TJ Parks remembers playing basketball with some talented players. Lewis Lloyd would play in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, and Tony Phillips had a good basketball career. His NMMI basketball coach, Dave “Soupy” Campbell, is in the Junior College Hall of Fame.
“‘Soupy’ was as close to a second father figure as I could imagine,” TJ Parks said. “I still talk with him via phone frequently. He was really hard on me because I wasn’t the star. I was a complete role player. I felt I could stop anyone defensively, and offensively my job was to get the ball to Lewis (Lloyd) or Jerome (Mobley) in a scoring situation.”
When TJ Parks was at NMMI, the basketball team was good. NMMI ranked as high as 12th in the nation and they expected to win every game. TJ feels the wins weren’t as memorable as the losses. NMMI hosted the Wool Bowl Tournament in conjunction with the Wool Bowl football game. Western Texas beat them in the championship (they were ranked 11th). Their coach walked out of the game, coach Campbell let the officials come back onto the floor and Western Texas ended up beating NMMI to advance in the tournament. NMMI lost in a double-overtime game in the Regional Finals to go to the National Tournament.
One of TJ Parks’ favorite memories was in his sophomore year when Ed Abreu was his roommate. Big Ed was from Taos where he starred in football and basketball, playing for his dad. Abreu decided to play football for Lefty Stecklein in his sophomore year. Abreu was recruited and played for Clemson University as a tight end.
Abreu wasn’t the neatest person in the world, and they were written up for not having their room prepared for inspection. That evening Abreu and TJ Parks snuck into the room of the cadet who wrote them up and placed handcuffs on him, threw him over the stoop, and let him dangle off the second floor hanging by his handcuffed arms. Amazingly they didn’t get many demerits after that.
“NMMI — academically it was a lifesaver,” TJ Parks said. “The rigor of the courses and the mandatory study was instrumental for me. I was not disciplined in my studies in high school. High school was easy for me. I would have dropped out of a regular college. Physically and emotionally it made me stronger. I was soft entering NMMI. The physical demands helped create some of the leadership skills I rely on today. I have lifelong friends from NMMI. The discipline and difficulty you go through make you appreciate each other.”
Some of the attributes that NMMI taught TJ Parks was his respect for authority, an appreciation for discipline, and for the United States. It taught him to compete in life. That competition is what America was built on, that nothing should be given to you and you work for your rewards. NMMI taught him to outwork his competitors, and that nothing is accomplished without teamwork, dedication and that discipline can overcome God-given talent.
“Being an NMMI alumnus gives automatic credence in some circles,” TJ Parks said. “Knowing that you ‘survived’ and prospered through a tough, high-quality program has opened some doors for my professional career.”
TJ Parks’ life has come full circle, he has always been involved in education and sports. He graduated from NMMI and then played basketball and graduated from the Citadel. He was a coach for a number of years before becoming an administrator. He was superintendent at the Tatum school district for 21 years. For the past 10 years, he has been the superintendent at Hobbs school district. Not only that, but he is the president of the New Mexico Activities Association.
“A lot of these kids are not seeing any hope,” TJ Parks said. “When a kid doesn’t see hope, their future is today. They don’t look down the road, so if they see that they’re not being able to get a chance, a lot of those kids just chuck it in. We (are) seeing kids’ grades fall, dropping out, we’re seeing a higher rate of suicide, we’re seeing kids getting arrested that would not normally be getting into trouble. I converse with superintendents all across the United States — this isn’t just a New Mexico problem with remote learning. There are a lot of mental health issues with our kids that are in schools.”
TJ Parks is a proponent of getting kids back in schools. He feels that teachers and coaches do more than win ball games. Many times, coaches are mentors to kids, and maybe the most influential adult in a student-athlete’s life. He thinks that if kids could get back into school and get into a routine again and work toward something, it would stabilize this situation.
“I have advocated very strongly that we need to get back in school,” TJ Parks said. “We border across the state of Texas, and they’re in their six weeks of football games. They are playing all sports. I think academics is No. 1, but I think the social aspect of teaching kids how to act and behave is just as important as the academic piece.”
As an educator, TJ Parks feels like parents should have the right to choose what is best for their children. His goal is to learn something new every day. He tries to never be satisfied with his current state and to have a growth mindset to always want to improve.
“I hope through my educational career I have been able to give young men and women opportunities to achieve their dreams,” he said. “I believe the educational system is the great equalizer for socioeconomic disparities. Athletics are essential. Sports teaches people how to deal with adversity. If you get knocked down, get up and try harder. Teamwork is vital to any company’s success. Athletics teaches you to work with diverse groups of people for a common goal.”
Effects of pandemic
TJ Parks believes the COVID-19 pandemic will impact this generation as the Great Depression impacted his father’s generation. He feels that online learning is a resource, but it will never replace the face-to-face relationship teachers have with students. He also believes that if kids do not get back to school, society will see learning loss that will impact these kids for the rest of their lives.
“Hopefully we will learn some lessons from the pandemic,” TJ Parks said, “and apply them in a positive direction as we move forward. As Winston Churchill said, ‘never waste a good crisis.’ I hope we can look at our grading process and realize seat time is not what needs to be measured, but academic proficiency in order for our children to progress.”
TJ Parks knows that people might not agree with his decisions as a superintendent, but he feels like he has made decisions that were best for kids. He knows his decisions have not always been easy nor always popular.
“I hope my children learn to appreciate hard work and the love for our great country,” TJ Parks said. “Faith in God will overcome many of our shortcomings.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.