The legacy of coach Jim Patrick

Angela Piazzola played four years of varsity softball for coach Jim Patrick at Butte Central.

The high school announced recently that it didn’t renew the contract of the long-time Butte Coach. Following is from a school paper Piazzola wrote about Patrick in early may.

They call him ‘Mr. P’

by Angela Piazzola

James Matthew Patrick was born on December 7, 1932 in Butte Montana to James and Jennie Patrick.

James, also known as Jim Patrick, or as my team and many others call him, Mr. P. He started coaching in 1948 – sixty-four years now. It is believed that Patrick has coached more than twenty thousand Butte kids, and I am proud to be one of them. He has coached seven sports, and of the seven he has only participated in two of them. He has coached boys and girls basketball, slow pitch and fast pitch softball, volleyball, boys and girls track, football, baseball and speed skating.

When he was younger his father was a big influence on him. He said, “My father was a very hard working man, and without an education he was one of the smartest people I knew.” He built the house that Patrick lives in today. The house is very nice, mostly filled with coaching tapes and papers, and a collection of teacups. The back yard of his house is a spectacular garden, that he takes as much pride in as he does coaching.

When Jim was in the second grade, he was ridding on his cousin’s shoulders and came down on the side of a table. After hitting the table pretty hard his shoulder formed a cyst and needed surgery. There were problems with the first surgery, so they sent him to the Shrine Hospital in the Twin Cities to try and fix the issues. To try and fix the cyst, making sure it didn’t infect his whole arm, the doctors had to cut part of his muscle on the top of his shoulder. Patrick had to go through four surgeries on his arm. These surgeries left his right arm and shoulder undeveloped. Because of this he wasn’t able to play football until the eighth grade, but he was able to speed skate.

Even though Patrick could only lift his right arm as high as his shoulder, he was determined to play high school football. He was 5 foot 7 inches and 180 pounds. He learned to block and tackle, mostly with his left arm. He played on the freshman and junior varsity football teams. As a freshman, Patrick was a starter. His team went undefeated. The highlight of the year was beating the Dillon varsity. Seniors were not allowed to play on the junior varsity team, so when he was a senior, Coach Swede Dahlberg called him into his office. Dahlberg told Patrick, they were afraid to play him on the varsity team, because they didn’t want him to reinjure his arm. Dahlberg sent him to talk to Sam Leeper, the junior varsity coach. Leeper gave Patrick the choice to play on the JV team or to help him coach. Because it was his senior year, Patrick chose to play and was allowed to play on the JV team.

The first time Jim Patrick coached a team was in 1948 when the kids from the Greeley School asked him to coach their basketball team. “I’ve been coaching ever since,” Patrick said. Patrick focuses on teaching the fundamentals of each sport. A lot of his coaching knowledge comes from books, tapes and television. When he sees something good, he tries to remember it and pass it on. Each year during softball, I have been given his personal tapes to view on hitting and fielding. Olympic Softball player Dot Richardson narrates most of these tapes. He stays up nights and watches college softball and thinking about how he can improve his team. In a 2006 interview with Joe McClafferty, Patrick said “The Lord made me a coach for a reason. I couldn’t play because of my handicap. So, when I see the kids play and succeed, I see myself doing it with them.”

His efforts have led to many successful teams and many successful athletes.  He coached Legion and Copper League baseball. He was the team manager for the 1960 South Side Baseball team, which won 16 of its 17 games that year, winning the Butte Copper League Championship. This team was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame on July 12, 2003.

When he coached the South Central Football team in the 1970’s it played 58 games without a loss. In 1975 the team was 11 – 0 and outscored their opponents 307 to 0.

Over the years, Patrick’s slow pitch softball teams won 18 state titles, 9 regional championships and qualified for 11 national tournaments. In high school softball, he was the assistant coach to Meg Murphy when the Butte Central Maroons had a 52 game winning streak and took 3 state championships in 1997, 1999, and 2000. He took over as the Maroon’s Coach in 2001. His record with the Maroons is 156 wins and 103 losses through 2011. His teams have only missed going to state one time in ten years.

Here’s a breakdown of Coach Patrick’s record with his Butte Central teams:

2001 – 20-5. Placed fourth at state

2002 – 13-10. Went to state

2003 – 17-9. Placed third at state

2004 – 17-10. Placed second at state

2005 – 19-5. Went to state

2006 – 7-14. Went to state

2007 – 15-11. Went to state

2008 – 15-12. Went to state

2009 – 14-9. Second at state

2010 – 13-11. First team not to make it to state

2011 – 16-7. Went to state

Bill Foley has covered the Butte Central Maroon Softball team for The Montana Standard sports section for the past seven years. According to Foley, Patrick’s teams have made it to the state tournament every year but one, and have had winning records every year except one. Foley stated, “Dealing with him as a reporter is unlike dealing with any other coach. He takes each loss so hard.” Through Bill Foley’s years of working with Mr. P, he has gained a lot of respect for him.

“This guy gives his entire life, and thousands of dollars out of his own pocket over the years to the BC softball team. If you talk to Coach P. in September, December, April or May, the topic will be the same – the Butte Central softball team. I could go on and on about Coach P. He’s a Butte legend.”

Patrick’s junior varsity volleyball teams have been very successful as well. The 1989 team won all 18 of their games and was honored as the national team of the month in the August, 1989 issue of Volleyball monthly. He was an assistant coach when the Bulldogs won the state championship in 1994. Prior to coaching the JV team at Butte High, Patrick was the first volleyball coach at Montana Tech in 1977, earning $300 per year.

Jim Patrick has coached several athletes who have excelled in sports. Several have been inducted into Butte’s Sports Hall of Fame. That list includes Sonny Holland, Bob O’Billovich, Gary Carle, Mick Dennehy, Sonny Lubick and Bob Petrino.

For all of these accomplishments, on August 3, 2000 Jim Patrick was presented with a 50-year award by the Montana Coaches Association. He has had more years of coaching than anyone else in the state of Montana. In 2003 he was awarded the AFLAC National Assistant Coach of the year for his work with the Butte High Volleyball Team. On July 9, 2005, Patrick received a green jacket and was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.

There have been a few people that I have interviewed for this project. All of them admire and appreciate Jim Patrick for what he has done for them. The first one was Mike Carle. Mike Carle has known Jim Patrick for his whole life. Patrick started coaching Mike in the second grade when he was playing basketball for Madison/Harrison. Even though Carle didn’t go to those schools it was a combined team. He went to Greely.   “I was lucky enough to play for him even though I didn’t go to those schools,” Carle said. The reason Carle knew Patrick before he coached him was because Patrick coached his father in baseball. Patrick coached Mike’s father even though most of the people on Patrick’s team at the time were only 2 to 3 years younger than him. “Jim has touched the lives of many kids in Butte.”  Carle also said that Jim would do anything for these kids. Most of the things that he got for the teams he would pay for it out of his own pocket. Patrick would coach kids and they would live all over town, he would pick most of the kids up for practice. They would all pile in his green ford truck with a topper on the back, and drop them off after at all of their houses.

“He yells a lot, but it is fine to be coached by him because he has such a passion. He is always tough on fundamentals, but always pay attention to what he is saying and not how he says it.” said Carle. This is one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten from many people over the years that I have played for Jim Patrick.

The next person I interviewed was John Reis. John Reis and Jim Patrick met coaching girls slow pitch softball. They both coached different teams, Reis coaching Walkerville, and Patrick coaching Racetrack. A funny thing was that Patrick coached John’s wife on his slow pitch team. Before there was volleyball in high schools, Patrick started a power volleyball league. John Reis officiated most of the matches for his league. Later on in 1983 they put volleyball in the high schools, and both Reis and Patrick put in for the job. Reis ended up getting the job, but put Patrick on the coaching staff. When asked about how Patrick coaches, Reis said, “ He is very controversial, very loud, but he produces results.” The pair worked well together at Butte High coaching volleyball. Although 3 years ago Reis retired from coaching the sport, but Patrick is still at Butte High coaching one of the freshmen volleyball teams. Patrick likes to push the envelop to all of the rules, but never break them. Patrick is known for his yelling, but Reis says that he has mellowed out over the years. “He still talks a lot if you get him going, and you will never change him. His whole life is teaching and coaching, he has never had a family of his own but the kids that he coaches are family to him,” said Reis. Since Patrick doesn’t have a family, for holidays he usually goes to the Reis household and eats and celebrates with them.

Another successful person who was coached by Patrick is Bob O’Billovich.  Patrick coached O’Billovich in baseball. Bob knew of Patrick growing up and knew when you got to a certain age he would coach you. “He was key about the game and studied it, and was well respected by the people who played from him.” Said O’Billoivich.  Bob O’Billovich was one of the last people to be put in the University of Montana’s Hall of Fame with 9 letters. He originally went to the University on a basketball scholarship, but ended up playing both football and baseball also. He lettered 3 times in each sport. Right now O’Billovich is the general manager for the Canadian football league, for the Hamilton Wildcats.  And to think he got his start in sports being coached by Jim Patrick.

I had a great time interviewing these people and learning more about my coach and how he has changed many people’s lives and how they will never forget him.

I have played for Mr. P since my freshmen year of high school in 2009. I was fourteen years old at the time, and scared to death of the man. I have learned a lot of things from him and not only in sports. I believe that he has taught me some life lessons, like always be on time, work extremely hard, never give up and never stop learning. My freshmen year we had a team with only 10 players on the roster, 5 seniors, no juniors, 3 sophomores, and then two freshmen. If you know the game of softball you know that it is played with 9 players on the field. We had a lot of injuries that year, so sometimes we only had 9 girls. I remember one game in Corvallis when we finished a game with 8 girls when Brooke Pokorny sprained her ankle. I looked up to those 5 seniors, and they were always looking after me as a freshman. With me being the new one I felt like I was the target of Mr. P’s yelling, the seniors and our two female coaches Kelci Thatcher and Theresa Rader helped me deal with his yelling. I cannot count how many times I was told these two things, but they are very true; first, people always said that if he doesn’t yell then he doesn’t care, and second, when he is yelling listen to what was he is saying, not how he is saying it. I started to try and listen to what he is saying, because for not playing the sport he sure seems to know more than most people who have. I respect Mr. P and listen to what he says even though sometimes I might not want to hear it.

We won the Central A conference that year and were headed off to state in Polson. Mr. P was quoted on the news saying, “I knew that after we got going we would do a lot of great things, which we did. With ten people, I have never had a team with ten people before, so it was quite an accomplishment what we’ve done this year.” It was so exciting when we got to Polson.  I remember watching Polson lose their first game of the tournament. We thought they would probably win the whole tournament. After their loss, I remember thinking maybe we would have a chance. We won our first game against Corvallis by a score of eight to zero. Next we upset Billings Central by a score of three to zero. We were headed to the semi-finals against Frenchtown and had yet to be scored on.  In the semi-finals we lost to Frenchtown by a score of four to zero. It was a tough loss, but we still had a chance to come back, and Mr. P believed in us more than anyone. Next we played Belgrade, which always had great teams.  I remember their fans had cowbells that they rang every time their team did something good. They took an early lead, but their pitcher started to struggle and we ended up beating them by a score of six to seven. I will never forget as we were coming back to beat them, the cowbell ringing stopped.  That win put us in the championship game, but we would have to play Frenchtown, which had been resting since our first game earlier in the day while we continued to play in the heat. We would have to beat them twice, since they didn’t have a loss yet.  Mr. P had full confidence in us that we could beat anyone, because of his confidence and encouragement, I felt like we could do it to. Unfortunately, we ended up losing to Frenchtown by a score of six to two and we were the second place team in the State A softball championship. We were all sad to lose, but to think that we did this with only ten girls on our team was an amazing feat. Our team was so happy to have made it that far. Mr. P was so proud of all of us for what we had accomplished.  I will never forget that season and state tournament for the rest of my life because how much fun and the success we had.

Jim Patrick is a great man and although he has never had a family of his own, he has had thousands of children that he has made an impact on their lives; he certainly made an impact on mine. Jim Patrick is truly a coaching legend and I am proud to have been coached by him.