Pat Huggins is a passionate and compelling storyteller with a knack for always finding the positives in situations and the good in people. But, he also says the things that need to be said – some of which people are already thinking – and doesn’t ignore hard truths.
Huggins writes from the heart. But he’s also a wordsmith who says what he means and means what he says.
In March, Pat Huggins retired from his job as a sportswriter at the Lebanon Daily News, a position he invested his heart and soul in for 24 years. Huggins retired in part due to complications from Parkinson’s.
A natural-born writer, Huggins shared his gift with his hometown for the past two and a half decades, and Lebanon became a better place because of it – and his community came to love him back. He touched thousands and thousands of lives, and he knew his audience because they were him. And Huggins always knew who he was.
“I think my style is a little different than most,” said Huggins. “Not saying it’s better than anyone else’s; in fact, I think there are a lot better writers and journalists than myself. But, I think I was just blessed with the ability to write stories that were both entertaining and informative. I had no formal journalism training, but I had to do a lot of writing as a history major in college, so I knew how to organize a story and include the necessary facts and quotes.
Huggins said his favorite part of the job was the people.
“I was able to develop so many wonderful relationships with colleagues, athletes, coaches, and parents, and I saw many of them handle both their best and worst moments with grace and dignity,” said Huggins. “It was an honor to get a chance to document that.”
After battling the effects of Parkinson’s for nearly seven years, Huggins seriously began contemplating retirement last summer when confronted with the rigors of covering another high school football season. He took a series of medical leaves before deciding to publicly announce his retirement.
The last article Huggins wrote for the Lebanon Daily News was on the passing of long-time Lebanon football assistant Harold ‘Bud’ Getz to the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Huggins, who, like Getz, is a Lebanon High graduate, said, “The irony that my last story would be about someone battling a neurological disorder was not lost on me.”
“It was totally my decision,” said Huggins. “It was a very difficult decision, but I just decided that it was too stressful to keep going when I knew I wasn’t doing my best work anymore. Nobody ever complained to me about it, but I felt I wasn’t providing the best possible coverage anymore, and that really bothered me. I feel like I had set a certain standard with my work and didn’t feel like I could reach that consistently anymore. I almost felt that if I stayed on at less than my best, I would be depriving kids and readers the level of coverage they deserved.”
Huggins said it’d been an adjustment over the six months getting used to not working, but he definitely needed the time to rest.
“I’m sleeping better than I have in years, but I definitely miss covering local sports and the people who make it special,” said Huggins.
Under the circumstances, Huggins’ health overall may be as good as anyone could expect. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that has no cure but one that can be effectively managed.
“Everybody who has it has a different form of Parkinson’s,” said Huggins. “My health is not that bad, believe it or not. Physically, I’m doing well, thanks in part to the surgery I had in 2019 to control motor symptoms. It is the non-motor symptoms that have been and continue to be my biggest problem. I have significant anxiety, which really (stinks), and a little depression and apathy. I’d say I’m about the same. Parkinson’s typically progresses slowly, and, so far, that appears to be the case for me, although a doctor would have to weigh in on that.”
Huggins said Parkinson’s can cause shaking and stiffness.
“I can talk OK, but sometimes I stutter,” said Huggins. “When you’re doing that during an interview, I can’t help it, but that makes them (subjects) a little uncomfortable. If I’m doing an interview, I don’t want them thinking about what I’m struggling with at the moment.”
Because of his ability to manage Parkinson’s and, in part, due to the anxiety, Huggins kept his diagnosis to himself for years. But in September 2021, Huggins revealed in a Twitter post that he was dealing with the disorder, and the Lebanon community responded with a huge outpouring of sympathy and well-wishes, which included the now-infamous creation of the ‘Thanks Pat’ t-shirts.
In February of this year, much to his surprise, Huggins was inducted into the Lancaster-Lebanon League Hall of Fame. He has also been nominated for this year’s Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame’s community service award.
“I would hope that people don’t feel too sorry for me,” said Huggins. “This is a sad situation in some ways, but it’s not a tragedy. I just want people to keep it in perspective. Even though I struggle at times, I’m not miserable. I can still do a lot of things I used to do.”
Huggins said he seeks respect, not attention.
“I really believe that,” said Huggins. “I think respect for who you are and what you do is the greatest gift anyone can give you.”
Huggins said his message to those who might get diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the future is that a diagnosis doesn’t mean your life is over.
“It is difficult, no question, but it’s also a very treatable and livable disorder,” said Huggins. “I refuse to call it a disease; that gives it more power than it deserves.”
In some very real ways, Huggins entered the local journalism world during the heyday of Lebanon County sports coverage and exited it at the industry’s lowest point – facts that are both coincidental and related.
A 1991 graduate of Elizabethtown College, Huggins began his journalism career at the Lebanon Daily News, covering school board and municipal meetings part-time. In 1997, he became a sports correspondent, covering local high school football games, and, two years later, when Ed Gruver took a sports writing position in Lancaster, Huggins was hired full-time.
“It was kind of the glory years a little bit,” said Huggins of the late 1990s. “I just remember being excited about coming to work every day. I definitely didn’t feel that way towards the end, even before I was dealing with this. It became less fun because there were less people involved.”
“When things changed so dramatically, I was like, ‘What are we doing here?’” Huggins continued. “I still don’t think it was the right decision. I think it turned off all of our readers. I was basically by myself the last two or three years at the Lebanon Daily News. There’s only so much you can do. It’s disappointing for me to see what LDN has turned into. It’s not what it should be.”
Huggins’ future is no more or less uncertain than yours or mine. But given the passion for his craft, it’s difficult to imagine a Pat Huggins future that doesn’t include writing.
“I would like to write, but it would have to be under different circumstances,” said Huggins. “It’s hard for me to say at this point, but I’d like to stay involved. A lot of it is up in the air, but I think I can contribute something down the road. I will figure something out that will get me back out in the local sports community again because I really do miss it.”
Huggins shared a favorite quip of his: Being a sportswriter sure beats working for a living.
“It is a job that requires a lot of work and some crazy hours,” said Huggins. “But it is also a lot of fun. I remember when I first started stringing for Bill (former LDN sports editor, Warner) I would sit in the press box and think, ‘Man, I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’”
Huggins isn’t too concerned with his enduring legacy; that’s a mindset for those who care more about themselves than others. His body of work very much speaks for itself.
The owners of the Lebanon Daily News have posted a job advertisement designed to identify Huggins’ replacement.
“Oh, I think I’ve had a great career,” said Huggins. “And I don’t really mean in quality of work, but in terms of how rewarding and fun it’s been. Although I know there is an element of sadness to my story, no one should feel sorry for me. I’ve had a blast doing what I love for 25 years. Many people in life are not that fortunate.”
Huggins said he doesn’t really think much in terms of legacy but took a guess at what his might be.
“I guess it would be that I always tried to be a straight shooter and focused on the positive things that kids were doing,” said Huggins. “But also, that I told the truth and wasn’t afraid to rip someone or something if it was warranted.”
Without Pat Huggins’ shining light, the Lebanon County sports world is a darker place.
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