When Maxie L. Parks’ name was added to a long list of names being considered for a southwest Fresno community center, there was no doubt city officials had the right one.
Parks, who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics, is well-known in the Valley’s track and field community.
When Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines was considering a new name for the community center on the southwest corner of California Avenue and Elm Street, formerly called the Community Youth Center, there were many choices on a long list.
“There were several names that came up through the years … nothing ever struck me,” Baines said.
But after spotting Parks in a track and field photo that hangs in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Baines knew the search was over.
“There was no ‘that person is good, but …’ ” he said, adding that selecting Parks as the center’s namesake was the quickest decision he ever made.
We wanted to associate that pride (of the community center) with someone this community is also proud of.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines
At a gathering Saturday morning under cloudy skies and cold weather, family and friends joined to formally recognize Parks and the newly named youth center.
Bob Fries coached Parks during his running days at Fresno City College in the early ’70s after he graduated from Washington Union High School.
“I’ll tell you, he is the greatest man I’ve ever coached, inside and out,” Fries said.
Parks went on to the University of California, Los Angeles after Fresno City and also ran competitive track and field.
He won in the USA Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., in 1976 and then won a gold medal in the 4x400 men’s relay race in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Fries said Parks had a sore foot but didn’t want to mention it, fearing that he wouldn’t be allowed to run.
In a short prayer before the event, a local pastor prayed for the legacy Parks has made for himself and the community. Baines said buildings often are named after people have died, but he wanted to honor Parks now to send a meaningful message to local youths.
The youth center, which offers athletic and fitness resources for youths, is also a pride of the community, Baines said. He added that naming it after Parks just made sense.
“We wanted to associate that pride with someone this community is also proud of,” he said. The building was reopened in 2011 after sitting empty for several years.
They will find hope here, they will find encouragement here, they will find empowerment here, they will find him here.
Angie Barfield, niece of Maxie L. Parks
Parks explained that he took an interest in running when he was 10 years old, watching track and field on TV. He said he ran around his mother’s home despite her worries he would bump into the walls.
Parks said he never expected to be so successful and to travel to places like France, Russia, Germany and Belgium. He said he will work with his daughters to make sure youths in the community have activities they can take part in.
Daughter Shanel Parks-Moore, 39, said she is glad other community members, especially youths, will get to experience her father’s character.
“Although he has the accomplishments, he’s still Daddy and so we are just so very filled with pride and are much honored that the city of Fresno would allow this to happen,” Parks-Moore said.
Parks-Moore said she and her sisters found out in July that the City Council had voted unanimously to name the center after her dad.
“I cried, and I cried and I cried,” she said. “I was just like, ‘wow.’ ”
Parks’ niece, 45-year-old Angie Barfield, said her uncle influenced her choice to run track and field at Hoover High School. That same influence is what Barfield wants local children to gain from Parks.
Said Barfield, “They will find hope here, they will find encouragement here, they will find empowerment here, they will find him here.”