By Bryan Bloodworth
NORMAL - Tom Patten said there hasn’t been one defining moment in his 18-year career as track coach at Normal Community High School.
“I couldn’t point to a single thing and say that was a defining moment of the success we had as a program,” said Patten, who is retiring from his track position at the end of the season. “It really is the culmination of achievements and the sense of satisfaction I’ve seen so many kids develop over the course of their careers that I really would point to.”
Patten, who will be honored by the school at Friday’s NCHS Invitational, looks back on his coaching career fondly.
“It’s been a good 18 years,” he said. “I certainly enjoyed the experience. “Obviously, the thing that makes it particularly special is having the chance to work with so many good kids and see their successes.
“That’s what I really would look back upon most fondly - accomplishments, not just of the kids who had state accomplishments, but just to see all the kids at the different levels moving up through the program to see them have some sense of success and growth and improvement. That’s what I’m proudest of as a coach is that we worked with all of them.”
Patten said the biggest change he’s seen over the course of his career is the demise of the multiple-sport athlete.
“There is so much more emphasis on club sports and year-round focus on a single sport,” he continued. “In track that really hurts us because we used to get so many kids who were three-sport athletes. We don’t get those anymore because there is so much emphasis on year-round training for a single sport.”
Patten said one of the more special moments from him as a coach involved the late Tim Dawkins.
“He suffered from grand mal seizures and had a lot of physical defects that should have kept him out of sports,” said Patten. “But he wanted to be an athlete and give it a try. His ability to participate in both cross country and track was really an inspiration to the other kids on the team.
“He never was a great athlete. His accomplishments most people wouldn’t have considered them accomplishments at all, but for him to be a part of the team and to be able to race however slowly really added something to his life but more so to the lives of the other kids who were on the team. They respected him for what he was able to do and accomplish.”
Dawkins died a few years after graduating from NCHS from a grand mal seizure.
“Knowing that he had the chance to be a part of a team and be a part of the experience that to me kind of symbolized what we want to be here,” Patten continued. “That is an organization that is inclusive and supportive and gives kids the chance to feel good about themselves.”
Patten plans to continue as cross country coach at NCHS.
“Track is a lot more time intensive and a lot more detail oriented than cross country just because there are so many more events,” said Patten. “I’m ready to put that aside and settle into a little bit of a retirement, but I want to keep my connection with the kids. That’s why I want to hold onto cross country.”
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com.