James Estes

If you have been a long time Turkey Trot participant, the name James Estes might be familiar to you. For the last 40 years, Estes, otherwise known as the ‘T-shirt King’, has been spending his Thanksgiving mornings out at City Hall Plaza passing out Trot T-shirts and helping with on-site registration. We sat down with Estes to hear about his long-time relationship with the YMCA and his experience volunteering with the Dallas Turkey Trot. 

YMCA: Tell us about your ‘Y’ Story- when did you first become involved with the YMCA? 

James Estes: I became associated with the Y in 1969 in what was called Urban Services YMCA, which was a branch with no brick-and-mortar, and I was part of the program called Sponsor of Educational Opportunity. I went through that program in high school, worked with several sponsors (which were more seen as mentors) who helped me navigate through graduating high school and then moving forwards into college. My current major is a direct result of one of those mentors, I am an accountant by training. The next branch was the Community Services Branch, which again was no brick-and-mortar, but it was that branch that got me involved with the Turkey Trot. At that point, the Community Services Branch didn’t have an actual building or members, so the Turkey Trot contributed a large dollar amount to sustaining that particular organization and its mission and goal- which was helping the community via the young people and scholarships towards them.  

Y: How long have you been a volunteer for the YMCA Turkey Trot? 

JE: For the last 40 years I have been volunteering each Thanksgiving morning. The first year I volunteered, the race was at White Rock but when it moved downtown was when my family also got involved with it as well. We made it something we did every Thanksgiving morning as a pay back to all that the Y did for us. It became tradition, and even when my kids went off to college, they would still come back each year to volunteer. We understood that the proceeds of the race were going to help make others' lives better. It’s just one of those things that we felt was worth it to us. 

Y: Why do you volunteer for the Turkey Trot each year? 

JE: My reasoning for volunteering each year is because I see what the proceeds do to benefit the community. A lot of people have a misconception that the Y is just this big social club, but The Y has benefited the community at large. Volunteering is definitely a payback. I am an only child born and raised in Dallas and the Y helped me growing up and develop into the person I am today. 

Y: What have been some of your most memorable moments at the Turkey Trot? 

JE: I love seeing people of all backgrounds at the Turkey Trot. If you want to see unification- it happens that Thanksgiving morning. There are people that make me laugh so much with their costumes every year and it’s great seeing familiar faces of people who have been showing up for years. I love when people come up to me and say, “Hey we remember you from last year!” and then telling me they came back this year because of how well the race was organized and the volunteers that helped make the morning so fun.  For that two-hour time period, people are just people. The challenges we all face just kind of go away that morning. 

Y: What are you looking forward for this year’s Turkey Trot? 

JE: The thing I look forward to the most is one, seeing all the people, and two, seeing what the latest design of the T-shirt is! Since I am the T-Shirt King, I am always curious of what we are going to look like this year.

T shirt volunteers

James Estes (left) with fellow t-shirt volunteers at the 2018 Dallas Turkey Trot. 

Interested in registering for the Turkey Trot? Go to for more information.  

Authored by: cmccauley