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Kristen Watson

Help on wheels

Profile image for By Christian McPhate
By Christian McPhate
A few riders took inspiration from Santa and Mrs. Claus for the Coats for Kids Ride on Sunday.Christian McPhate - DRC
A few riders took inspiration from Santa and Mrs. Claus for the Coats for Kids Ride on Sunday.
Christian McPhate - DRC
Bikers gather at the start of the fourth annual Coats for Kids Ride on Sunday at Cycle Center in Denton.Christian McPhate - DRC
Bikers gather at the start of the fourth annual Coats for Kids Ride on Sunday at Cycle Center in Denton.
Christian McPhate - DRC
A horned helmet made this rider stand out during Sunday’s Coats for Kids Ride.Kristen Watson - For the DRC
A horned helmet made this rider stand out during Sunday’s Coats for Kids Ride.
Kristen Watson - For the DRC

Ride collects winter coats for homeless kids

It sounded like a thousand growling beasts thundering down the road as more than 1,000 bikers pulled out of Cycle Center in Denton, heading south on Fort Worth Drive toward Country Club Road.

Their destination: American Eagle Harley Davidson in Corinth, where a man who looks strikingly like Stevie Ray Vaughan made his guitar cry “Texas Flood” to a crowd of family and friends who awaited the bikers’ arrival.

The bikers came in all shapes and sizes, showcasing colors for each club participating in Sunday’s Coats for Kids Ride. Tattoos and black leather were the dominant attire, while a few creative types wore Christmas-inspired costumes and a horned helmet like a Norse god. Gray beards, skulls and eagle bandannas, and a Christmas tree with ornaments flapped in the wind as the bikers thundered down the two-lane road, stopping traffic and turning heads.

Native American Brotherhood, Servants of the Lord, Unchained Prison Ministry, dozens of clubs and hundreds of bikers from the hardcore to the hobbyist came together to ride as part of the fourth annual Coats for Kids Ride, which benefits 1,500 homeless youths living in Denton County.

The event is sponsored by local businesses and organizations including the Blue Knights, a law enforcement motorcycle club, the North Texas Corvette Club and the Knights of Columbus from St. Mark Catholic Church.

This year’s ride began a little after 2:30 p.m. at Cycle Center and ended at American Eagle Harley-Davidson, costing riders only a new coat or hooded sweatshirt to donate for children and teenagers in need.

“It’s a worthy cause for kids,” said Dale Hagan, a biker from Denton County who heard about the event from a flier posted at the Harley-Davidson dealership.

In 2011, Greg Sawko and Bryan Tymes of American Eagle Harley-Davidson decided to create a ride that would benefit homeless children in Denton County by providing “one coat at a time.” They had heard about the increasing number of homeless children attending schools in Denton ISD.

More than 125 bikers participated in the 2011 ride, donating about 226 coats to children in need. The following year the numbers rose to 502 bikers and 976 coats, and the event garnered the help of Kenny Martin, owner of Cycle Center of Denton.

“It’s a great organization for a great cause,” said Martin, who was joined by his wife and daughter at Sunday’s event. “It’s 100 percent donation and 100 percent volunteer.”

In 2013, the number of participants rose again, increasing to 600 bikers who donated more than 1,200 coats.

But organizers of the Coats for Kids Ride soon realized that a lot of the coats being donated didn’t fit overweight children or teenagers in need at area high schools. So this year, they added two additional campaigns: “Hoodies for High Schoolers” and “Larger Coats for Larger Kids.” Organizers also sought donations from non-riders at several drop-off sites.

Texas Flood, a band that pays tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, kicked off the celebration at American Eagle Harley-Davidson, while food trucks and other vendors provided snacks and memorabilia for riders and their families and friends awaiting bikers who were due to arrive at any minute.

Law enforcement officials blocking the exit ramp to Interstate 35E were the first sign that the bikers were near, followed by thunder as they crested the hill. People lined the highway, taking pictures and waving as the bikers pulled into the parking lot to join the celebration.

“This is my son’s first ride,” said one mother awaiting the arrival of her husband and son, who were hidden in the sea of bikers cresting the hill. “He’s loving every minute of it. He’s been sending me photos of the ride.”

It took several minutes for the bikers to park, but everyone was in good spirits as the band played Vaughan’s hits such as “Pride and Joy,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Texas Flood.”

As the day progressed into late afternoon, family and friends gathered around the bikers and their mounts, enjoying good food, good music and good company for a benefit that gathered, at final count, 2,190 new coats and hoodies for the homeless kids of Denton County.

CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.