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When Cal Farley got an idea in his head, a cup of coffee in his hand, and some friends around him, the world underneath the Texas Panhandle began to shift.

In 1934, in the throes of the Depression and Dust Bowl, Farley, along with Roy Pool and Chancellor E. Weymouth, believed boys had too much wild free time, which was only going to lead to worse things.

What they needed was a supervised boys club. With $300 apiece from the three, and a building at 313 N. Van Buren St. donated by Mary E. Bivins, the Maverick Club was formed. The name, of course, described a wild and independent calf.

Just five years later, having seen the early success of the Maverick Club, Farley still saw a need to reach a segment of boys who were in trouble, whose family lives were in disrepair, who needed an outlet beyond a boys club.

“The Maverick Club, and later Kids, Inc., took 90 percent of the problem as Cal Farley saw it, but he was worried about the boys running around at all hours, that 10 percent that were not supervised at all and getting into trouble,” says Mike Pacino, who’s held a number of positions at Boys Ranch over 37 years. Today, he serves as the organization’s major gift officer.

When Julian Bivins, son of Mary Bivins, agreed to donate the original 120 acres at Old Tascosa, 37 miles northwest of Amarillo, Boys Ranch became home to nine boys from Amarillo.

Well-meaning ideas often fade in time. Institutions crumble. Necessary money dries up. But not with the Maverick Club and Boys Ranch.

In 2024, the Maverick Club celebrates 90 years, and right behind is Boys Ranch at 85 years. Within Boys Ranch is its most famous event, the Boys Ranch rodeo, which itself turns 80.

As the decades rolled by, these two institutions have adapted and evolved while remaining true to Farley’s original visions. More than 30 years ago, what were once boys-only destinations have now opened their doors to girls.

The Maverick Club

The Maverick Club originally was home to wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, swimming and basketball teams. Athletes qualified for the Olympics, and won national and state titles under the legendary Ralph Dykeman, who was executive director from 1934 to 1982. Today, sports are just a portion of the mission, and symbolic of how the club has changed.

Located at 1923 S. Lincoln St., homebase for the past 80 years, the Maverick Boys & Girls Clubs is a haven for families below the poverty line, a beacon for at-risk students of working parents ages 5 to 18, a key to opening a new future.

The Maverick Boys & Girls Clubs serves approximately 650 youth across the city. The club picks up students after school from 26 of the 35 elementary schools in Amarillo ISD, and currently has programs in Hamlet, San Jacinto, Bivins, Rolling Hills and Glenwood elementaries.

Within the club’s premises are an art room, computer room, learning center, library, game room, teen center, STEM room, dance studio and nutrition zone, along with a gymnasium and trampoline park.

“We’re famous for all the athletes who have come out of here, but studies show not even one percent, if that, of any group—and that includes our 650 kids—will be professional athletes,” says CEO/Executive Director Donna Soria. “But if we can get 650 to graduate high school and all have an equal playing field, then they can do so many things with their life—military, a trade or college.”

That is Soria’s goal for the children she serves. “We focus on education, and yes, we incorporate sports, but our focus today is education because that is what is going to help a child get further. We are a fun, safe place for kids to get off the street but we’re not warehousing kids and babysitting.”

A partnership with Tyson Foods is in its second year, and the first of its kind nationally. With support from Tyson, 50 children from parents of Tyson workers on the shift that ends near midnight come to the Maverick Club after school.

Following study hour and a meal, when other children go home at 7 p.m., those students stay with supervision and are fed again, follow up with homework and have some free time until bedtime. Parents then pick them up by 1 a.m. after work.

“It’s our big shining star,” Soria says.

Boys Ranch

Change is a regular occurrence at Boys Ranch, which continues to adapt to the needs of its students. One major change coming this year—which the public will notice—is that the 80th Annual Ranch Rodeo won’t take place on its traditional Labor Day weekend, but on Oct. 12 to combat the heat.

And as the name suggests, there’s a lot of ranch life at Boys Ranch. The western and agricultural way of life has been a central hub since the beginning. But today, the spokes are a little more varied.

“Training has evolved a lot, and our programs have, too,” says Amanda Rogers, director of communications and marketing at Boys Ranch. “Ranching was the primary part of Boys Ranch back in the day, while today it’s just a part of what we do.

“Yes, we have ag, equine and meat processing, but we also have culinary, photography, 3D printing and woodworking. It’s still the ranch, it’s always Christ-centered and that continues, but we have adapted as well.”

One of the changes—and challenges—has been the aftermath of the pandemic. Today only 105 residents live at Boys Ranch, from ages 5 to 18. Before 2020, the population was more than three times that, more than 300 residents.

The challenge is in the number of house parents needed to fill a maximum of 17 homes. Right now, the ranch has about half that number. Boys Ranch could accept more at-risk boys and girls, but despite enhanced recruiting efforts and additional perks, house parents have not come close to pre-pandemic levels.

While more than 130 residents have graduated or been reunified with family since 2020, the number of new residents admitted since that time is much lower. More house parents on staff would allow for those on the waitlist to come to Boys Ranch to live. 

“The hardest thing is we can’t get staff,” Mike Pacino says. “Prior to COVID, that was not an issue.” 

He hopes the staffing struggle is a temporary one, because the needs haven’t changed. “The need is always going to be there. You could build 5,000 Boys Ranches and not take care of all the adolescent boys’ and girls’ needs. We have just got to figure out how to staff this. The pandemic has changed things—not permanently—but right now,” he says.

‘I’d probably be dead or in prison’

Boys Ranch gave KAMR’s Andy Justus the normalcy he needed

Andy Justus, possibly Boys Ranch’s best-known local alumnus, told officials at the Ranch simply to call him anytime they needed someone to speak to the young residents of the place that was his home for nearly six years. The longtime weeknight news co-anchor at KAMR is more or less on retainer there. But unlike a lawyer, his services come at no charge.

When he shares with them, the details of his message vary slightly, but the heart remains unchanged.

“I tell them that Boys Ranch is only as good as you make it,” Justus says. “All the tools, all the resources are there, but you have to choose the adventure, you get to choose how successful you want to be. There’s a quote that I tell kids all the time—‘If it is to be, it’s up to me.’”

At 12 years old in July 1985, Justus was unknowingly about to live that mantra. He was already at a crossroads in his young life. He was desperate for a safer, sturdier path, aware even at that age that he needed an about-face to turn around a life starting to spin out of control.

He had just completed the sixth grade at Humphrey’s Highland in Amarillo, his ninth elementary school in six years. His single mom had an eighth-grade education, working the 2-10 p.m. shift as a truckstop waitress. Andy and his brother were more or less on their own.

No money, no direction, no future. 

“Most kids who grew up around here were teasingly threatened with Boys Ranch—‘If you don’t quit doing that, we’re going to send you to Boys Ranch,’” Justus says.

Threatened? Justus wanted to go to Boys Ranch. He’d seen television commercials about the Boys Ranch rodeo. He was aware the residential community 37 miles northwest of Amarillo was a place for at-risk boys.

That sounded good to him. How do I get out there? Justus made it happen. He did an end-run around his mother, had a family member take him to the Amarillo office for an introductory talk, and that led to a visit to the 1.6 square mile pastoral setting for him and his brother Richie, then 7.

“We came back and I asked my mom to send us out there, and she said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Justus says. “But it was through constant pestering and badgering that she finally agreed to send me and my younger brother out there.”

It’s hard to say how Justus’ future would have spun had he not taken the initiative to change it. But the results are clear:

  • An accomplished stage actor in high school
  • Graduated with honors from West Texas A&M University, with a double degree in Radio, TV and Film, and Speech Communication—later inducted into the WT Communication Hall of Fame
  • A quarter-century at KAMR, including four years as sports director
  • Husband to Michele—together they are also Realtors—father to Mayzie Grace and Piper June

Boys Ranch was the springboard. “If not for Boys Ranch, I’d probably be dead or in prison, and at the very least, nowhere close to any success in life had it not been for Boys Ranch,” he says. “Not just Boys Ranch the entity, but all the people who make up Boys Ranch. People like (Coach) Paul Jones and Jack McCallie who was the athletic director. They invest in people’s lives.”

Justus was 12 and had never made a bed until living in the Veigel Home with house parent Mike Orr, one of five house parents during his time. Until Boys Ranch, he drifted like a fallen twig in a river.

“When I first got out there, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?’” he says. “I went from no structure to copious amounts of structure. But I also had these expectations put on me that ‘you can do this.’ I had never heard positive reinforcement before. I often say that I got addicted to hearing praise at Boys Ranch.”

In the pinball existence of schools in Amarillo, Justus was two grades behind in math, one grade behind in English, and was reading at a remedial level. Within those first six weeks in the fall of 1985, he made the A-B honor roll and never looked back, eventually graduating second in his class in 1991.

Craving Normalcy

Richie Freeman, his younger brother, didn’t thrive. Their mother removed him from Boys Ranch in the middle of his freshman year. Richie dropped out of Tascosa. He jumped into the wrong crowd, and later died in an accident.

Why did Andy choose a different path?

“I craved normalcy,” Justus explains. “I wanted to know I had three meals a day, a bed, friends, a safe place, people who looked after me. It’s the things many take for granted.”

Normalcy was the potting soil of potential, and potential bloomed into achievement. Justus, like all, had dorm chores and ranch work—on a cleaning crew and scooping ice cream at the visitor center—which earned a paycheck. 

Justus dabbled in wrestling at 95 pounds and played some basketball, but it was theater and speech and debate that was his niche. Under Drama and Speech Teacher Denise Green, Justus was named Best Actor in the UIL state competition in Volpone, which won state. He debated and read prose and poetry in UIL academic competitions.

Justus was a national officer in the organization Vocational Industrial Clubs of America. Once at a national convention in Las Vegas, he found himself at McCarran Airport late at night and alone. He had the wherewithal and confidence to locate transportation and his hotel.

After finishing as salutatorian, Justus planned to attend Wayland Baptist until WT Speech Professor Guy Paul Yates called. Yates casually assumed Justus was going to WT and told him about speech tournaments the school would compete in. 

“After I hung up the phone, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to WT,’” says Justus. 

That fork in the road proved fortuitous. Dr. Leigh Browning, a mass communication professor, soon convinced Justus to take a radio class—again with positive reinforcement. “You’d be good at it,” she said.

Justus was good at it, and a career was born. After graduation, he became a film photographer at KVII for news and sports. He loved that, but not the $5.75 an hour. He left journalism for St. Louis and a job with IBM for a year. He was miserable.

On a visit back home, Justus learned that KAMR had an opening in sports. Justus didn’t have an audition tape. He asked management to take a chance on him. Give him a month, and if he wasn’t up to standard, he’d leave.

That month turned into 25 years. In 2003, news director Ny Lynn Nichols asked if he was interested in filling a weeknight news anchor spot. Andy was sports director at the time, and he loved sports. But the job came with a sizable raise, and if Justus turned down the offer, one of the three people in the sports department would be let go in a downsizing move.

That was enough to convince Justus to leap. With Walt Howard of KFDA having retired in 2022, Justus—who will be 51 in April—is now the longest-tenured Amarillo anchor in a nomadic profession known for instability.

“I just love it here, and I love the people,” he says. “I feel like if I had gone to something in a bigger market I don’t think the money and prestige would be worth giving up the peace and passion I have here.”

A six-year stay at Boys Ranch 35 years ago was the key to it all, where small encouragements—like positive greetings from secretary Pat Waldrip, and Jack McCallie telling Justus “I got you” after the death of his absentee father—continue to resonate in Andy’s life.

“Boys Ranch has never been just the physical place,” he says. “There’s no magic to the actual place. The magic and the difference come in the people who sacrifice so much of their life to work there.”

Author

  • Jon Mark Beilue

    Jon Mark worked at the Amarillo Globe-News from 1981 until his retirement in 2018. He spent 17 of those years as sports editor, and the last 12 as the newspaper’s general columnist. Beilue received 16 statewide and national awards for his work. He has written five books—two are collections of his columns, and the other three are on Amarillo lawyers Wales Madden and Robert Templeton, and Canyon girls basketball coach Joe Lombard. Beilue is a native of Groom and graduate of Texas Tech University. He and wife Sandy have two adult sons.