From the fresh cut grass to the smell of hot dogs and popcorn in the air, perhaps one of the best days on the sports calendar every year, for many sports fans, is getting out for opening day of the baseball season.
Unfortunately in 2009, opening day for the Amarillo Dillas will go down as one of the most tragic days in sports history in the Texas Panhandle with the passing of Dillas Public Announcer Joe Frank Wheeler just hours before the game.
On Monday afternoon of June 15, 2009, Wheeler was preparing for the evening game when he collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack at the Amarillo National Bank Dilla Villa baseball stadium in Amarillo.
Wheeler, who had served as the PA Announcer for the Amarillo Dillas for over 10 years, collapsed on top of the press box while working with other Dillas employees on the sound system.
According to Amarillo Sox Director of Publications/Sales Ben Miller, despite the sadness in their hearts, the Dillas went on to play that opening game of the season without a PA system in honor of Wheeler.
Prior to his time working and living in Amarillo, Wheeler and his family were an active part of the Borger community.
Wheeler served as the president of the Borger Chamber of Commerce from 1989-2001, worked for Edward Jones, and on KQTY radio as the voice of Borger Bulldog and Lady Bulldog athletics for many years prior to relocating to Amarillo.
For those of us that attended Borger High School in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we may have known Wheeler’s wife Susie as much as Joe Frank, as she taught the French language classes in Borger for many years.
The loss of Wheeler was a big blow to the Amarillo baseball community, especially to former Dillas General Manager and current Amarillo Sox Vice President/General Manager Mark Lee.
Lee describes the relationship he had with Wheeler by saying, “Joe Frank was more than just an employee of mine, he was my best friend. After I hired Joe Frank, we became great friends by having lunch together twice a week and me working with him as his color man when he called high school basebal games.”
With Wheeler passing away, Lee decided that he and the organization would honor Joe Frank in the best way they knew how with a scholarship for one local baseball player and one local softball player who will be attending college and continuing to play on the field after high school, thus establishing the Joe Frank Wheeler Scholarship Foundation.
Lee said, “When Joe Frank passed away in 2009, baseball and Amarillo lost a good one. I wanted to honor Joe Frank because I never wanted to forget him, which is why I came up with the Joe Frank Wheeler Scholarship.”
The two area student-athletes will be selected based on a number of criteria including leadership among peers, influence in the community, and performance on the athletic field and in the classroom.
The amount of the scholarships are worth $1,000.
The Amarillo Sox will make the presentation to the two recipients this coming Wednesday, June 15th before the Sox game with the El Paso Diablos on the two year anniversary of Wheeler’s passing.
The first pitch of Wednesday’s game between El Paso vs Amarillo is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.