Patricia “Trish” Fries has Cougars blood running through her veins.
Her father, Tom Lynch, 77, is one of the original members of the Bridesburg Father’s Club, which was the precursor for today’s Bridesburg Cougars Athletic Club, a nonprofit offering sports to neighborhood youth.
Fries was one of those youths, spending countless hours playing sports with the Cougars, before going on to coach future generations of children and volunteer as a board member and then cheerleading director.
Her dedication to the organization of the years has not gone unnoticed.
Fries was named the recipient of the 2019 Carson Stewart Award.
The Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club annually bestows the award in honor of Carson Stewart in recognition for a resident’s “dedication to youth.”
Fries was honored by the club, the community, the Cougars, and her close family and friends at the annual dinner and awards ceremony on Wednesday evening.
“Trish is a beyond worthy recipient of the Carson Stewart award,” said Mare Shipton, director at the Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club. “This honor has been given to many before her, including her father, and she follows in their footsteps as a pillar of the Bridesburg community.”
Fries chalks up her altruistic nature to her own childhood as a Cougar.
“My dad was the treasurer for awhile and one of the basketball coaches. My mom used to be the softball commissioner.” she said. “That’s why I’m a part of it. That’s the way I was raised. I learned it. I look back at my childhood, and it was great. I want my kids and the kids in the neighborhood to have that. I stay involved because I love this neighborhood.”
Fries and her family moved to Bridesburg when she was 3, and she started playing T-ball for the Cougars a couple years later, kicking off about four decades of involvement with the organization.
From T-ball, Fries went on to play softball and basketball with the Cougars and her school, All Saints, until high school.
After graduating, Fries and a friend coached little tikes basketball for a couple years with the Cougars.
After meeting and marrying her husband, Fries stepped away from the Cougars for several years to start and raise her own family.
But, as soon as the kids, Erin, 20, and RJ, 19, were old enough, they followed in Fries’ footsteps, playing T-ball and basketball.
Her youngest, Leah, 14, played basketball, but ultimately found her footing in cheerleading.
Fries joined the board in 2009, lending her financial expertise as treasurer.
She stepped down as an executive board member and took over as cheerleading director in 2013.
At the time, the Cougars didn’t have cheerleading.
“All it was meant to be back then was a little in-house cheer program. The kids were little and we would cheer at the soccer and basketball games,” Fries said. “We started our first season with 14 kids, and now we’re at 110. In seven years, it’s like an empire now.”
Since then, the program has grown not only in size, but in talent. Several of the squads now have national titles under their belts.
While Fries didn’t have a background in cheerleading, she went all in, from spending hours at practices and competitions each week, to filing registrations.
Currently, she coaches the parents squad and a special needs squad.
“On Thursday nights, I coach the Cougars Pride, the special needs squad,” she said. “We have three special needs children and children from the Elite Squad cheer with them. And, they do a whole routine. It’s an hour and it’s my favorite hour of the week. They are a pure joy.”
That joy is what motivates Fries to spend countless hours volunteering each week.
“If I can give a little bit back of what I had as a child, if you can reach just one kid, it’s worth it,” she said. “When the kids find something they love, they give 110 percent.”
Fries is an important part of why the kids enjoy it so much.
“Trish’s selflessness and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done does not go unnoticed,” Shipton said. “As Trish said in her acceptance speech, ‘It’s all about the kids,’ and that is the definition of the Carson Stewart Award.”
Although grateful, Fries is quick to sidestep the spotlight.
“I don’t like the recognition to be on me, I’d rather it be on the kids and the Cougars organization,” she said, “But last night was probably one of the best nights of my life. Just to have everybody there and feel that appreciated means the world to me. I’m very humbled by the whole thing. I don’t do it to be recognized though. I do it so there’s something for these kids to do.”
Fries also points to the cheerleading coaches as to why the program is so successful.
“My coaches and I are all friends. We hang out and it’s a family,” she said. “Our organization is different because we treat everybody like family. The parents trust us and we let them come in.”
Continuing to provide that sense of family, and expanding the program, are what Fries hopes to accomplish in the future.
“I hope for us to have a squad in every age bracket, have multiple coaches, and just be one of the best organizations in the city of Philadelphia,” she said. “We all want it. Our kids want it. They all try. And, it’s all for the kids.”