Parkinson’s Disease hasn’t tempered Pat Huggins’ character. Nor has it revealed it.
Parkinson’s Disease has shone a bright spotlight upon it.
Huggins has always put others and his community ahead of himself. What Parkinson’s Disease has done is make that mission extremely difficult to accomplish.
But Huggins has never wavered. He has continued to provide outstanding coverage, as well as insightful and compassionate writing to a Lebanon County community that has a long history of excellence in athletics and one that embraces its local sports.
“Covering Lebanon County sports is very important to me,” said Huggins. “Lebanon is my hometown and I’ve always wanted it to have the best possible coverage. It’s amazing how many great players and teams I’ve had the privilege of covering. And they’ve impacted me just as much. I’ve been very fortunate and have some wonderful memories.
“I’ve come to realize the challenges that it (Parkinson’s) presents,” added Huggins. “For the first couple of years, it didn’t really hit me. But as it’s gone along, it’s gotten a little more difficult. I guess I’ve sort of come to realize how amazing it (what he’s been able to accomplish) is.”
Pat Huggins is a sportswriter at the Lebanon Daily News, has been for 21 years, the last four of which he’s been covering local sports on his own, as a one-man department. For six or seven of those past years, Huggins has been covering local sports with Parkinson’s Disease.
Many know of Huggin’s condition, some do not. But the Lebanon County sports community, spearheaded by the efforts of Annville-Cleona football coach Matt Gingrich, has come together and come up with a way to honor Huggins’ efforts and raise money at the same time.
They’ve commissioned the creation of ‘Pat T-shirts’ – white and blue shirts with Huggins’ familiar face and signature ball cap, and the phrase ‘Thanks Pat! – your friends in Lebanon County’ written beneath it. The ‘Pat T-shirts’ have been distributed to every Lebanon County public high school, and most of the locale’s scholastic sports programs.
Beginning this week, Huggins will be honored through unofficial ceremonies by the various varsity athletic programs, in their own unique ways. Thousands of dollars have already been raised through the sale of ‘Pat T-Shirts’, and that money will be donated to a local charity.
It’s safe to say that such a unified effort to celebrate the contributions of one member of the local media has never been undertaken before.
“I was a little surprised, although if anyone was going to this, it would be Matt,” said Huggins of Gingrich. “He’s been very supportive of me since I revealed my condition last year and has always been complimentary of my work over the years. Still, I never expected anything like this. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
“I guess it’s to honor my efforts over the years, and probably to cheer me up a little bit, since I haven’t been able to get out and cover stuff as much as I’d like,” continued Huggins. “It’s not something I really wanted. But I do appreciate it.”
“We’ve had an overwhelming response from the Lebanon County schools,” said Gingrich. “In this world, you’re either a giver or a taker. When I look at all sports reporters, they’re givers. Pat has dedicated his life to helping kids. Pat has held down the fort for local sports reporting. Sports writers are overworked and underpaid. It’s time to take care of a giver.”
The thing with givers is that they sometimes have a hard time asking for help for themselves.
Parkinson’s Disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that generally affects motor skills. The symptoms of Parkinson’s usually emerge slowly, but as the disease progresses non-motor symptoms become more common.
“It’s a neurological condition that causes shaking, stiffness and slowness of movement,” said Huggins. “Basically, it’s caused by diminished production of a chemical called dopamine, which helps with movement. There is medication to help with that and when it’s working well I move normally. When it wears off, not so much.
“I think most cases are random, although some believe that exposure to certain chemicals plays a role,” Huggins continued. “And I know sometimes it runs in families. No one in my family has ever had Parkinson’s that I know of. Overall, I’m not doing bad. But I’m not comfortable struggling in front of people. My biggest thing is the anxiety that comes from it.”
“He needs to understand there are a lot of people who appreciate what he does,” said Gingrich of Huggins. “For some of these kids, sports is all that they’ve got. He doesn’t understand the impact he’s had on these kids. When something like this happens, sometimes people think they’re alone. We want him to know that he’s not fighting this by himself. He has been an inspiration to a lot of people.”
After graduating from Elizabethtown College in 1991, Huggins began working at the Lebanon Daily News as a stringer, covering school board and local municipality meetings. The Lebanon High School product responded to an ad for sports correspondents to cover local high school football in 1997, and was hired as a full-time sportswriter two years later, by then Lebanon Daily News sports editor Bill Warner to replace Ed Gruver, who took a sports writer’s position at Lancaster Newspapers.
“I have thought about that,” said Huggins of the sheer number of local lives he’s impacted over the years. “Even before I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I kind of knew the impact I had made, but not to this degree. Over the years, a lot of people have read what I’ve written or followed what I do.
“It’s amazing how many great players and teams I’ve had the privilege of covering,” Huggins added. “And they have impacted me just as much. I’ve been fortunate and have so many memories. Through the coverage of local sports, I’ve met so many people, made so many friends and developed so many relationships. I’m very grateful for those relationships.”
Through repetition and self-motivation, Huggins has developed a unique writing style that focuses on the reader, that provides insight on the important stuff going on behind the final score and that relays the back stories of the student-athletes competing. Everything he creates reflects his empathy for others and love for his hometown.
“I think that is true to a huge degree,” said Huggins, of treating his position at the Lebanon Daily News as more than a job. “At some point, it became important to me to represent the community. I’m not quite sure when that happened. I became a little more aware of the impact I was having.
“Well, it’s (local journalism) changed a lot,” continued Huggins. “There’s less emphasis on game coverage and more on feature writing. And of course, social media and video have changed the game a lot. But I’d have to say some of the changes have been to my advantage. I don’t have hard deadlines any more. Even if this wasn’t an issue, it’s still harder to cover things than it used to be. But my bosses have been really good about that.”
In October of 2020, Huggins made his Parkinson’s diagnosis public through a tweet on Twitter. It was a tough decision, given his private nature.
“It was very difficult, because I hadn’t told many people about my condition, because I didn’t need to,” said Huggins. “But it had begun to affect my work, so I felt that people deserved an explanation.
“My job is public. To a degree, I have a public persona,” added Huggins. “I’m generally very private. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I guess over the years I’ve become more public than I intended. There’s obviously a public side to what I do.”
Huggins’ condition reminds us that we’re all day-to-day, game-to-game. In that spirit, Huggins intends to continue what he’s been doing over the last 21 years, for as long as humanly possible.
“This has been tough to deal with, but I feel very fortunate,” said Huggins, a 52-year-old resident of South Lebanon. “The good news is Parkinson’s is not fatal and treatable. The bad news is there is no cure and it will continue to progress. But good care and treatment should allow me to live an almost normal life for many years to come. I’m not sure how long I can continue to do this, but I think I’ll know when to stop, whether it’s next week, next year or ten years from now. It’s honestly hard to say.
“I’m still ticked off I can’t do more,” concluded Huggins. “But I know realistically that I’m doing all I can. I guess my message would be to follow your passion in life and don’t take anything for granted, especially your health. That’s a precious gift.”
Parkinson’s Disease can never touch Pat Huggins’ soul.