The storied former coach of the Permian Panthers, Gary Gaines, will return to the gridiron next month to help raise awareness for a disease he himself must now tackle.
Gaines was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, joining millions of Americans estimated to have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. In an effort to raise money to help find a cure and support local programs, Gaines will help coach a team of women battling for victory in a friendly flag football competition.
Kickoff for the Blondes vs. Brunettes game is at 6 p.m. June 10 at Bushland Falcon Stadium, 99 Farm to Market Road 2381, Bushland, Texas. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Gaines, who retired as head football coach at Permian in 2012 after his second stint as the Permian head coach, said he is looking forward to returning to the football field.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
The Alzheimer’s organization coordinating the event reached out to Gaines after finding out he had some issues, he said. Tracy Sommers, director of development for West Texas, said they’re excited to have Gaines as an honorary coach for the national event.
“We’re very honored to have Coach Gaines come and present the game ball,” she said.
The organization’s goal is to raise $70,000 from the flag football game, which will help support local programs, support groups and go toward research to help find a cure for the disease, Sommers said. It is the seventh consecutive year for the fundraiser.
The legendary coach will be joining a former assistant coach, Ken Plunk, on the field once more for the flag football game, as well. Plunk coached under Gaines at Abilene Christian University. The two men also coached at Permian High School at different periods of time.
Plunk is currently head football coach at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, where Gaines also coached at one time.
“We even coached against each other,” Plunk said.
Plunk has been close friends with Gaines for about 17 years and he will be at the Blondes vs. Brunette’s game to support Gaines and his family in any way needed.
“It’s an honor to be with Coach Gaines in any capacity,” Plunk said about joining Gaines on the field again. “Anytime I have a chance to be around him, it’s a real joy for me. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”
The two coaches each played a role in “Friday Night Lights,” a movie based off of H.G. Bissinger’s bestselling book about the 1988 Permian Panthers football team. Gaines, one of the main characters of the book, was played by Billy Bob Thorton, and Plunk, who was coaching at Permian when the movie was filmed, had one line in the film.
While there was some backlash from the community after the book was published, the author had only kind words for the retired coach Friday.
“Friday Night Lights is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. He is a man of dignity and I’m just extremely sad and I hope for the best,” Bissinger said after hearing about Gaines’ diagnosis. “He’s a strong man and he’s a fighter — that I know.”
Sommers said Gaines is in the very beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and is still working and traveling. While many people think the worst when Alzheimer’s disease is mentioned, she said Gaines is still “doing very well.”