Why Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman desires to supply a music competition in his hometown

HENRYETTA, Okla. — Troy Aikman has determined to turn out to be a music competition producer.

The Professional Soccer Corridor of Famer and Fox Sports activities broadcaster just lately returned to the place he calls residence to announce “Troy Aikman’s Freeway to Henryetta,” a one-day nation music marathon headlined by celebrity Blake Shelton on June 11.

Aikman might simply whip out his checkbook and write a six-figure one to assist his hometown faculty district purchase crew uniforms, gear and bolster tutorial packages. It might be the most important windfall the college district has ever seen.

However the 54-year-old former quarterback nice of Henryetta Excessive desires to do greater than infuse cash into this city of about 5,400.

He desires to place Henryetta on the world’s music map.

Sturgis has bikes. Why not make Henryetta the go-to vacation spot for an annual Crimson Filth competition?

He simply wants the primary one to take root.

Aikman has raised tens of tens of millions of {dollars} for his favourite causes, together with greater than $60 million raised when he headed United Manner of Metropolitan Dallas’ 2017-18 annual marketing campaign.

“That is private on a a lot deeper degree,” Aikman mentioned on Oct. 22 whereas touring in a chauffeur-driven SUV from Okmulgee Regional Airport to interrupt the large information on the Friday afternoon soccer pep rally within the faculty’s gymnasium. “I don’t assume it’s attainable for them to grasp what’s about to hit this city.”

Aikman desires to pay it ahead to Henryetta for making him the person he’s right now.

“I obtained to expertise and reside the storybook Small City America. Most of who I’m, what I imagine and no matter character that I’ve got here from my time right here,” he mentioned.

That’s one thing he says he can by no means totally repay.

“I need this to be a neighborhood occasion that the city rallies round,” mentioned Aikman, who after taking part in for Henryetta from 1981-83 went on to be the star quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. “We wish to make the enterprise leaders, the town council and all of the folks right here really feel as a lot possession in what we’re doing as any of us.

“This isn’t a lot my occasion as it’s Henryetta’s occasion.”

Troy Aikman addresses students during the pep rally at Henryetta High School.
Troy Aikman addresses college students through the pep rally at Henryetta Excessive Faculty.(Smiley N. Pool / Workers Photographer)

Street to someplace

Henryetta is lower than an hour south of Tulsa and a 3½-hour straight shot north from Dallas.

Some may say it’s in the course of nowhere — an exit signal on U.S. Freeway 75 that most individuals whiz by on their strategy to some place else.

That’s what a 12-year-old Aikman thought when he moved from Southern California to a farm 7 miles exterior Henryetta.

He’d led the West Coast charmed life as an all-sports athlete with a real expertise for pitching and taking part in shortstop.

“I might see the parachute experience at Knott’s Berry Farm from my yard. I might play any sport that I needed to. For an athlete like myself, it was magical.”

Aikman stayed in California together with his greatest pal whereas he completed his all-star little league baseball season. He joined his household after his crew was bumped out of the event making an attempt to get to the Little League World Collection.

On his first day in Henryetta, Troy was on the roof together with his father and two native carpenters shingling his household’s home.

“We had been residing in a little bit trailer on the property whereas we constructed our home,” he recalled. “How we ever obtained 5 folks in that trailer, I don’t know.”

Troy spent that sweltering summer season bailing hay, slopping hogs and doing chores that he by no means knew existed. He couldn’t see how any of it will result in his boyhood dream of turning into an expert athlete.

“That was a interval once I thought, ‘Wow, life has modified, and I don’t know that it’s for the higher,’” he mentioned.

However that modified when faculty started.

“Transferring to Henryetta didn’t wreck my life in any manner. It made my life,” Aikman mentioned. “I realized the worth of exhausting work and all {that a} small city encompasses: A person’s phrase is his phrase. You don’t should have written contracts about every part.

“I want my women [his college-age daughters who grew up in Dallas] had gotten to expertise Small City America.”

He met Daren Lesley the primary day of college, they usually’re nonetheless greatest mates 42 years later.

“Troy’s my greatest pal. He’s my hero. He’s been a part of many chapters of my life,” mentioned Lesley, who lives in Keller and flew in with Aikman for the pep rally. “His ethical conviction and dedication to being a greater individual and good father are essentially the most gifted issues he has. He’d commerce his athletic success for that.”

A sign on Main Street welcomes motorists to Main Street in Henryetta.
An indication on Essential Road welcomes motorists to Essential Road in Henryetta.(Smiley N. Pool / Workers Photographer)

Journey down reminiscence lane

Henryetta police Officer Dillin Munholland is driving Aikman to the gymnasium in a black Yukon Denali that belongs to his spouse, Jennifer, the mayor of Henryetta. He factors to a QuikTrip beneath building on the intersection main into city. Aikman is glad to listen to that will probably be open by competition time.

Aikman then factors to a Days Inn. “That was a Vacation Inn again within the day,” he mentioned. “My sisters had been each waitresses there.”

After Shoney’s on Essential Road is the Sonic Drive-In. “This was the turnaround,” Aikman mentioned. “Whenever you dragged Essential, you’d loop via the Sonic. I’m positive the children nonetheless do.”

He asks Dillin Munholland to take a detour to indicate the place he performed highschool baseball and soccer, stopping at a rusting signal on the again of the soccer area scoreboard honoring Aikman.

Aikman just lately mailed Mayor Munholland a $10,000 test to spruce issues up and get new coaching gear. She mentioned he advised her to not point out it to anybody.

Again on Essential, the road is dotted with shuttered companies. Some retailers have been repurposed.

“That was the Western Auto the place I labored as my summer season job,” Aikman mentioned. “Now it’s a music heart.”

The college district is Henryetta’s largest employer with 190 staff. The town employs one other 70 or so, the mayor mentioned. The 2 largest non-public employers are Anchor Glass Container, which has considerably downsized to simply over 100, and Fountain View Manor, the Munhollands’ nursing residence that employs 80. Shoney’s, Walmart and Henryetta Hillcrest Medical Heart every have 50 to 60 staff.

“Henryetta has fallen on harder instances — not that it was ever straightforward,” Aikman mentioned as we exited the automotive. “It’s tougher on these youngsters. That’s what I hear.”

Once we arrive, the again door to the highschool gymnasium is surrounded by dozens of reporters and TV crews.

The group inside goes wild when Aikman makes his strategy to heart court docket.

After the pep rally, Aikman is engulfed by locals of all ages hoping to get a photograph with their hometown hero. One among them, Jill Hill, works within the cafeteria and has six youngsters attending Henryetta faculties. She had her image taken with Aikman on the college’s previous basketball court docket when she was within the eighth grade. “He nonetheless appears the identical as he did then,” she mentioned.

Lela Foster (from left), Jill Hill and Sallee Hedrick take a selfie as Troy Aikman addresses the media after the pep rally at Henryetta High School.
Lela Foster (from left), Jill Hill and Sallee Hedrick take a selfie as Troy Aikman addresses the media after the pep rally at Henryetta Excessive Faculty.(Smiley N. Pool / Workers Photographer)

Reunion gone wild

The music competition really began out as an thought for a reunion for Aikman’s classmates.

He doesn’t come to city that always now that none of his household lives right here.

Two years in the past, Aikman and Lesley determined to have a classmate reunion at Aikman’s restaurant and reside music venue in Arlington known as Troy’s. Aikman footed the invoice for the band and the get together.

It was a success, so after a pandemic pause in 2020, they hosted a second one in April, opening it as much as anybody who graduated as a Henryetta Preventing Hen; i.e. earlier than 1989, when the Hens turned the Knights.

However attendance wasn’t what it may very well be, and Aikman thought it was ridiculous to carry reunions three hours away from Henryetta.

So he got here up with the thought of getting a Preventing Hens reunion in Henryetta and elevating a little bit cash to purchase sports activities gear within the course of. One factor led to a different, and the thought of a Henryetta music competition was hatched.

“However I advised Daren, I’m solely doing it if this man I do know, Tony Fay, is on board,” Aikman mentioned. “If Tony Fay is concerned, then I simply realize it’s going to be carried out proper, nicely carried out, top quality.”

The 54-year-old CEO of Dallas-based Tony Fay Public Relations, who’s driving shotgun upfront, acted as if he didn’t hear any of this.

Fay’s 16-person agency makes a speciality of sports activities, leisure, public relations and mega-event manufacturing, together with the Faculty Soccer Playoff.

Over time, Aikman and Fay have labored on dozens of tasks collectively, together with Tremendous Bowl XLV in Arlington and United Manner of Metropolitan Dallas’ ninetieth birthday bash at AT&T Stadium, which was headlined by Shelton and Usher.

Their first step was a visit to Henryetta, the place Aikman and Fay pitched the thought to Mayor Munholland.

“I used to be completely blown away,” the 49-year-old Munholland mentioned. “We’re Small City America. Individuals don’t do issues like this.”

She’s identified Aikman since she was in grammar faculty and Aikman performed soccer together with her older brother in her entrance yard. She needed to sit on the key for 5 months and was “bursting on the seams” when the pep rally lastly got here round.

The massive reveal was deliberate for homecoming week. However when Aikman came upon Munholland was about to have surgical procedure for cervical most cancers and won’t be capable to attend, he postponed it to the next week.

“Once I was out with the surgical procedure, he texted me to inform me I used to be in his prayers,” Munholland mentioned. “Though Troy might have all the celebrity and purchase something he needed, he retains it actual.”

Past the cash

The live performance stage, which might be a 3rd of the scale of a soccer area, might be one thing townsfolk have by no means seen.

“This city goes to have the ability to drive down the highway to Nichols Park — a park that they’ve been going to their whole lives — and take heed to Blake Shelton reside,” Aikman mentioned. “Most of those folks in all probability have by no means gotten the chance to see him reside.”

Troy Aikman (second from left) toured the site in Nichols Park where a music festival is planned with Paige Brum (left), Tony Fay (second from right) and Emmett Beliveau on Oct. 22.
Troy Aikman (second from left) toured the location in Nichols Park the place a music competition is deliberate with Paige Brum (left), Tony Fay (second from proper) and Emmett Beliveau on Oct. 22.(Smiley N. Pool / Workers Photographer)

One among his directives is that common admission ticket costs (that are nonetheless being developed) might be reasonably priced. There may also be costly VIP sponsorship packages for firms that wish to entertain purchasers and host non-public occasions.

Aikman tries to do an end-around on the subject of speaking about how a lot he hopes to lift.

On the outset, he simply didn’t need the competition to lose cash. “I advised Tony, so long as we break even, I’ll be fantastic. I’ll make a donation myself to the place it’s worthwhile for the college.”

Inside 24 hours of the announcement, greater than 1,000 folks went on-line to register for tickets that aren’t out there but. So Aikman hopes that he could be low-balling his aim.

However that’s not the purpose, he mentioned.

“The larger a part of this for me is injecting some life into this city,” Aikman mentioned. “It’s going to assist a number of these companies, the motels, fast-food eating places, comfort shops.

“It goes manner past no matter cash is raised.”

Celebrity texts

So how did Troy land Blake? He despatched him a textual content message.

In August, Aikman was about to go away his resort room in Canton, Ohio, to current Jimmy Johnson together with his Corridor of Fame jacket.

Aikman tends to be a get-it-done-now man. “When one thing hits me, I instantly react to it,” he mentioned.

“I mentioned, ‘Hey, Blake, I’m going to host a music competition in my hometown Henryetta on June 11,’” Aikman mentioned, studying the precise textual content. “’It’ll be top quality in each manner … I needed to see if we will speak together with your of us about you headlining it. We wish an Oklahoma presence, and also you’re my first alternative. I do know these asks could be a ache within the ass, and I don’t need it to be for you, so if you wish to put me in touch together with your supervisor that’s cool, too. Recognize you.’

“He responded nearly instantly. ‘Hey there, boss. Good to listen to from you. That’s an amazing thought. I’ve been kicking round doing one myself someplace round Texhoma the final three years, however I’ve been too lazy to place it collectively… I’m glad that you simply’re doing one thing right here in Oklahoma.’

“Blake gave me his supervisor’s quantity, so we had been off and working.”

In August, Fay employed C3 Presents, the Austin-based live performance promoter that places on Austin Metropolis Limits Music Pageant, Lollapalooza Chicago, Bonnaroo exterior of Nashville and different large-scale occasions.

The very first thing Emmett Beliveau, chief working officer of C3, did when Fay known as was to Google Henryetta. “I grew up in a small city in Maine that’s not not like Henryetta,” mentioned Beliveau, 45. “So I used to be excited to listen to extra about it.”

Earlier than becoming a member of C3 six years in the past, Beliveau spearheaded the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama and went on to carry numerous White Home positions for seven years.

Launching any new competition is a problem, Beliveau mentioned. However “Troy Aikman’s Freeway to Henryetta” has the potential to develop right into a vacation spot occasion like Austin Metropolis Limits.

“Followers are on the lookout for genuine experiences,” he mentioned. “This would be the probability to collect for an amazing day of music and help a small city. We couldn’t be ranging from a greater place than with the twin headliners of Troy Aikman and Blake Shelton.”

First-floor library of the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Hope Lodge in Dallas.

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