ROBSTOWN, Texas — Richard Gillespie’s earliest memory of Robstown athletics is when he was in the third grade.
“It was a district championship team the Pickers had that year," he said. "I started following them, and that was more than 50 years ago."
Gillespie grew up in Robstown, and has been involved in the athletics program his whole life. His father would take him to Cotton Pickers games when he was young.
In high school, he played for the golf team, and a few years after he graduated, he started working for the local newspaper, the Nueces County Record-Star, covering that same team.
Soon, Gillespie was covering all the 'Pickers teams, and several other local schools for the Record-Star.
“It just became an every week activity that I’d handle the sports locally, and write about the games,” he said.
While working for the Record-Star, Gillespie also started volunteering his time with the school district, keeping score for various 'Pickers teams.
“I became kind of the official custodian of records for everything,” he said. “Everyone wanted to know how their kids were doing and how the statistics were adding up. To me, it was an honor and a pleasure to do all that.”
In 2007, Gillespie had to take a break from going to 'Pickers games. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and while chemotherapy eliminated the cancer, doctors could not figure out why he was anemic.
“It took four years to diagnose I had Schnitzler Syndrome,” he said, “which basically means my blood is kinda out of whack.”
During those four years, Gillespie could not attend any games. He had to rely on listening to the games on the radio, and getting calls from relatives at the games.
“The coaches were able to give me the play sheets, the game sheets, and I was able to keep up with them in that regard," he said. "I would listen to them on the radio, but not being there in person, it was more difficult than I thought it would be."
Gillespie would soon return to his post as statistician for the Cotton Pickers.
“I got through all the cancer issues, and I said ‘I’ll be back again and I'll keep it the same way,’ it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to help the coaches out,” he said.
Gillespie’s contributions to Robstown Athletics do not go unnoticed.
“He’s a valuable asset to have," said Robstown head baseball coach Elias Vasquez. "He’s a very knowledgable guy in every sport. He attends every sport, he does our stats for us. The guy is a class act, and he does it for nothing. Everything is behind the scenes, nothing is for show. He’s just a great, kind-hearted man.”
Vasquez has known Gillespie nearly his whole life.
“I went to high school in Robstown, I graduated in ’89, and he was actually our stat guy then,” he said. “He’d travel on football trips, baseball trips with us.”
Over the four decades of attending Cotton Pickers games, Gillespie has seen his share of highs and lows, from district and state championships to winless teams, but he continues to volunteer his time because of how much he believes it means to the players.
“I take pride in every team has a chance to do something,” he said. “There’s just something about a hometown one school, and the pride that it always seems to bring. The kids like to watch people be in the stands and watch them play, because they prepare hard, they just want to excel. I just enjoy watching them grow as young people.”
The athletes appreciate Gillespie’s contributions to their careers. Senior football, basketball, and baseball player Jesse Resendez met Gillespie during his freshman basketball season.
“He gave me all of my stats, without a paper or anything, and he told me, ‘good job, keep doing great,’” he said.
Resendez recently met with Gillespie again, to get all of his high school basketball stats, because he is hoping to break team records this season. Resendez appreciates Gillespie’s services to him and his fellow athletes.
“He’s not getting paid for this, and he’s doing this for not just me, but every athlete at this school. It takes a lot,” he said. “Mr. Gillespie is a man of few words, but he’s a man with the biggest heart.”
Gillespie spends most of his time at the football, basketball, and baseball teams for Robstown, and hasn’t missed a game for any team in more than three years.
“I go to all the games that they’re scheduled to play. I always sit behind the bus driver, and if he gets there, or she gets there, I know I’m going to get there,” he said.
But he doesn’t just volunteer his time to track statistics, he also likes to keep the stands clean for the fans, both home and away, bringing a bag to pick up trash before every game. Gillespie doesn’t just keep the Robstown campus clean, he keeps the town clean, picking up trash if he sees it about at the H-E-B, the post office, or anywhere else.
“My mother always said, ‘if you can see a piece of trash, you can pick it up,’” he said.
In the 40 years he’s worked Cotton Pickers games, Gillespie estimates he’s been to 4,000or 5,000 games. Pair that with games he’s gone to as a spectator, including while he was younger, and he says that number is closer to 6,000.
“It’s really been a lovely time for me,” he said. “Whatever they needed, I was more than happy to do it, and I’ll do it as long as they want me and as long as I’m able.”
Gillespie’s favorite Cotton Pickers memory came in 1991, he still remembers it vividly.
“The moment [the baseball team] won their first state championship,” he said. “Our second baseman, Jesse Garcia, he got the force out at second base from our shortstop, Charlie Salazar, and Jesse did a backflip as soon as he got off the base, He threw the ball in the air, and I never saw the ball come down. It was just a wonderful end to a great season.”
Gillespie will always be memorialized in Robstown Athletics history. In 2013, the district started distributing the Richard Gillespie Award, presented to a senior who makes their community better.