September 4, 2004, Saturday, BC cycle

Homecoming parade, rally celebrate Carly Patterson’s gold

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional; Sports News

LENGTH: 572 words


Thousands lined the streets of gymnast Carly Patterson’s adopted hometown Saturday, honoring the 16-year-old who joined Mary Lou Retton as the only American women to win the all-around gold.

Little girls with pigtails held signs such as “Allen’s Golden Girl” and “Way to Gold, Carly,” while five teenage boys painted their chests red with “C-A-R-L-Y” spelled out in bright blue letters.

“We love you, Carly!” the painted admirers yelled.

All along the parade route, proud residents screamed with delight as the Allen High School marching band played and Patterson smiled and waved from the back seat of a shiny black Cadillac XLR convertible.

Police estimated the flag-waving crowd at 10,000.

“It’s just really great to come home to Allen,” Patterson said later at a celebration rally inside the school gymnasium. “I’m really glad to live here and have this much support from the whole town and everything.”

Patterson, a Baton Rouge, La., native who moved to Texas in 1999, lives with her mother, 14-year-old sister and two cats in a single-story brick house in this city of 66,000 about 25 miles north of Dallas.

“It’s very, very exciting,” said Allen resident Tracy Henderson, whose 7-year-old daughter, Kate, cut out pictures of Patterson from the newspaper and glued them to a pink poster. “I think it’s good to have wholesome role models for young girls nowadays.”

Eight-year-old Ashley Middleton of Allen decorated a poster declaring herself “Carly’s No. 1 fan.”

“I like her because she does gymnastics and I do gymnastics,” said Ashley, who turns most of her flips in the family living room.

Patterson’s coach, Evgeny Marchenko, told the rally crowd that Patterson winning the gold was the most exciting moment of his life – until Saturday.

“Today, riding in the car in the parade, you guys supporting Carly in her hometown and seeing so much love, I think today is the most exciting day of my life for sure,” said Marchenko, who trains Patterson at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in nearby Plano.

Since winning the gold – along with a team silver and an individual silver on the balance beam – Patterson has been a presenter at MTV’s Video Music Awards in Miami and hobnobbed on television with Jay Leno, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres. Already a familiar face on McDonald’s cups, she will be featured later this month on special-edition boxes of Wheaties.

But for the folks in Allen, she’s more than an American role model – she’s a hometown hero.

Signs will be put up soon declaring Allen as the “Home of Carly Patterson.”

“Man, can you believe that she did it and brought the gold medal home to the great city of Allen, Texas?” said an exuberant Mayor Stephen Terrell, who joined U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and other dignitaries in showering Patterson with commemorative flags and proclamations.

Like Patterson, 6-year-old Ross Frick Jr. wore a gold medal around his neck – but he got his plastic version at a friend’s birthday party.

Frick’s father, Ross Frick Sr., said the family was thrilled by Patterson’s performance at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.

“When you have a small town, I don’t think this happens too often where you actually get somebody who wins a gold medal,” Frick Sr. said.

Asked what advice she would give her cheering young admirers, Patterson stressed confidence and hard work.

“Just believe in yourself and your dream,” she said.