A Soul for Sports: Harlingen, Texas
31 Aug, 2011By: Juli Anne Patty
In 1902, the founder of Harlingen, Texas, Lon C. Hill, purchases the tract where the town is now located: 13,837 acres for $1.50 to $2.50 an acre. In 1904, the first passenger train passes through Harlingen en route to Brownsville.
In 1913, Harlingen plays its first football game.
Harlingen simply has a soul for sports.
Ninety-seven years later, the Harlingen Cardinals, now one of two football teams in this south Texas community, have the distinction of holding more district titles than any other school in South Texas. With 576 victories, the Cardinals, in their 97-year history, are the Valley’s most winning team, with six of their players going on to the pros.
And that’s just football.
Back in those early twentieth century days, Harlingen showed its sports promise early. Harlingen found every possible way to play, long before it had a roster of impressive facilities. The town’s first residents, railroad construction crews and law enforcement officers, made a sport of shooting, quickly earning the town its first nickname: Six Shooter Junction.
The Arroyo Colorado was Harlingen’s first aquatics venue, drawing a rough and tumble crowd of swimmers and the moniker “Naked Boys Bend.” Hunting and fishing, good for both sport and sustenance, quickly became mainstays of the town’s athletic life, but football, baseball, and golf would soon join the sports scene as well.
Today, you can find just about every sport and every kind of sports facility in Harlingen. Just 26 miles from the ocean and enjoying a year-round sports-friendly climate, Harlingen is combining its vacation appeal with its sports expertise to become one of Texas’ most in-demand destinations.
Sports traditions are a critical part of the Harlingen community, and the Jalapeno Hundred Bike, Run and Walk is the perfect example. In its 22nd year in 2012, the Jalapeno Hundred is a popular tradition that benefits Harlingen Youth Athletics, Harlingen Boys & Girls Club and other select not for profit organizations.
In 2011, approximately 800 participants from all over Texas, Colorado, and Mexico gathered in Harlingen for the Jalapeno Hundred.
“The climate we have here makes Harlingen fantastic for a long-distance bike ride—even at the end of February,” says Hope Davo, executive director, Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Cyclists love to test their endurance against the South Texas winds, and with the fun run/walk and tons of family events and activities, this has become a fun tradition for visitors and the whole community.”
Golf was a sport quick to take root in this South Texas town, and Harlingen now offers an impressive array of courses.
The Harlingen Country Club(HCC) offers an 18-hole course, popular year-round with golfers. The course measures 6,541 yards from the championship tees with a 71.7 rating and a 123 slope rating. HCC hosts top junior players from throughout Texas for the South Texas Junior Golf Classic. The Club is also home to a top amateur invitational, the Life Begins at 40 tournament, which draws 40 and over golfers from around the nation. Now a Harlingen sports tradition, the weeklong tournament started in 1953 and maintains a waiting list to enter.
Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course is a public 27-hole course—regulation 18- and 9-hole courses—complete with driving range, putting and chipping greens, snack bar and pro shop. The 18-hole course has a championship layout measuring 6,400 yards, par 71. The 9-hole course is a shorter course measuring 2,600 yards, par 35.
With more than 10 other golf courses within a 50-mile radius, including Treasure Hills Country Club and Cottonwood XXI, Harlingen has golf excitement going all over town, all year-round.
A national softball tournament destination, Wilson Sports Complex is a recently updated softball/baseball complex with a deep sports experience bench. Now offering a total of 12 lit fields, the complex has also received sidewalk improvements around the fields to make it ideal for parents and spectators.
Two-time host of the PONY League National Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament and host of numerous USSSA events, Wilson is an 80-acre facility consisting of four lighted softball fields, eight lighted youth baseball fields, two soccer fields, fishing pond and pier, two basketball courts, playground, handicap accessible playground, one-mile jogging/walking trail, covered picnic shelter, park pavilion with barbecue pit and restrooms.
Kick, Shoot, Score
The Harlingen Arroyo Youth Soccer Club is the driving force behind one of the city’s most popular sports, planning a number of the area’s exciting events, including the Trick or Treat Cup each Halloween for children ages four to 12.
The International Holiday Cup is a popular event that makes the most of Harlingen’s idyllic 'winter' weather, bringing 90 teams from Texas, surrounding states and Mexico. Along with the Harlingen Labor Day Cup and the Arroyo Youth Soccer Club’s annual March tournament, these soccer events bring 1,500-plus athletes to the city’s premier soccer facility, the Harlingen Soccer Complex, each year.
A new state-of-the-art venue, the Harlingen Soccer Complex boasts 10 regulation size fields (360 ft. x 240 ft.), six of which are lit. Two championship fields at the front of the complex are lit with higher footcandles to showcase final matches. Even beyond its sensational soccer offerings, this is a complex that takes service and amenities seriously, including a 1.2-mile trail, 650 parking spaces, covered pavilions, irrigation ponds and a concession stand.
Harlingen Country Club may be famous for its greens, but it’s also an ideal home for tennis. Led by 20-year tennis pro Andy Carter, Harlingen Country Club hosts tennis camps, clinics and high-profile events, such as the USTA Men’s $15,000 Futures Tennis Tournament, held at Harlingen Country Club in 2011, its ninth year.
Within Harlingen’s 47-acre Pendleton Park (also home to six Little League baseball fields) is a haven of serious tennis, the HEB Tennis Center. Many of the Rio Grande Valley’s upcoming tennis stars, as well as a number of tennis camps and youth and adult leagues, serve up on one of HEB’s 18 lit tennis courts. The facility's pro shop, open seven days a week, ensures players have everything they need for success.
The Future of Harlingen Sports
Staying true to its strong football roots, Harlingen hosted the First Annual Sam Hurd Football Camp on May 14, 2010. The camp was supported by Running with the Hurd, a charity founded by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Sam Hurd that aims to educate and mentor children. The city welcomed campers by proclaiming May 13th-14th as "Dallas Cowboys Weekend" in Harlingen.
Harlingen’s thriving hunting, fishing and outdoor sports community is also eagerly awaiting the opening of the community’s new 150,000 square-foot Bass Pro Shops this November.
"This is a great day for Harlingen," says Mayor Chris Boswell. “This is truly a destination-making event for our city, and we’re thrilled to welcome Bass Pro Shops, as well as sports participants and planners, to enjoy all of the year-round sports opportunities in our beautiful community.”
Harlingen might be famous for its ideal weather, but this a city with much more to offer. Harlingen’s affordability offers major appeal to sports events owners. More than 1,200 hotel rooms in a range of options mean that Harlingen can accommodate almost any budget. Then there’s Harlingen hospitality.
“Our community is as friendly as can be, and players, spectators and officials are always pleased at the South Texas hospitality they receive,” says Jeff Lissey, Parks and Recreation superintendent, City of Harlingen. “Our local restaurant and lodging providers look forward to serving out-of-town visitors, and they value what sports tournaments bring to town.”
Another huge Harlingen benefit: the beach. Within just 30 minutes, visitors can be on the famed white sandy beaches of South Padre Island. Harlingen’s Valley International Airport, the largest in the Rio Grande Valley, offers nationwide service, including Southwest Airlines,adding to the city’s affordability and convenience.
From site selection and event planning to creating tailored tournament stays for large groups, the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau is ready to help. Visit them at www.visitharlingentexas.com.