By CHRIS HOBBS
NEWTON — Wow, it’s truly amazing how time flies by so fast.
When my friends at WNNC 101.3 FM asked earlier this week if I could share some thoughts and information about former Newton-Conover High head football coach and athletic director Don Patrick, this didn’t – at first — register in my mind.
Here we are, with the Red Devils still doing those Red Devils-like things – winning football game after football game – and yet, when next season begins, it will be 20 years since Patrick walked the sidelines at Gurley Stadium.
Let that sink in … 20 years, two decades.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that Patrick was on one sideline and guys like Tom Brown and Randy Lowman were on the other in the kind of games that built the heritage – and excitement – that area football fans still enjoy today?
I’ve noticed of late that the crowds at many places are much thinner but we still have, for the most part, an excellent outpour of support for the young men playing football … and that table was set by gentlemen like Don Patrick.
I’ve been fortunate to see Coach Patrick at least a few times every year since he retired, as we serve together on a committee and thus stay in touch. And I can tell you first-hand that he still often works on athletic-related things – on his own time and dime – that benefit the Greater Hickory area.
I don’t have enough fingers (nor probably enough toes) to count the times I’ve heard of high schools looking to hire a new head football coach or add something to benefit their student-athletes and, as part of that process, they’ve reached out to Don for a bit of guidance or a word of advice.
They do that because they saw the success he had at Newton-Conover, the raw numbers, but moreso because of what Don’s insight provides.
If you’ve ever approached him, be you from Newton-Conover or another school or another city, you get an honest answer with great candor and, if you like, an offer to help.
That’s Don Patrick, and that’s why he was – and remains — so valuable to the Newton and Conover communities and high school sports in general in this area.
When things hit the fan (or are about to) he’s been the calming presence and also the most trusted guy in the room. It’s primarily because he has the rare ability to push his own opinion(s) aside, really hear all the points of view and then wrap it into a package that helps everyone there see multiple sides on a situation.
I specifically remember working on a story about how a majority of high schools in the lower end of Catawba County and all of Lincoln County were not yet offering soccer … and easily recall the point Don made.
He said it wasn’t yet time to add the sport at Newton-Conover because there was one very important aspect – as AD, he didn’t want to jump in, add a sport(s) and not provide that team(s) with the true and equal support it deserved.
His point: He didn’t feel it was right to put soccer teams on the field with maybe a t-shirt and shorts as a uniform, four or five soccer balls to share throughout an entire program or anything else that was less than first-class. If you’re going to engage your student-athletes to represent your school, provide them with all the necessary tools, he said.
It wasn’t long before Newton-Conover had soccer programs – another of the school’s athletic strengths – and that developed on Don’s watch.
Having worked with Coach Patrick for going on 40 years now, I’ve learned to try to better understand and use a trait he has that we all could/should be much better at – he is a great listener.
We’ve talked football, politics, schools, newspapers, food, life, religion and much more on a once-a-year, one-day drive to meetings and back so I’ve learned a lot … like a stop for a sausage and egg biscuit on the way is always a good thing (and always at the same place).
If you see Coach Patrick out and about, now’s as good a time as any to thank him for his contributions (they are many), and his thoughtfulness.
When I got married nearly eight years ago, with a small group of people attending – and on a day that had nothing to do with football, sports or my job – it meant a lot to see Coach Patrick sitting in one of the pews and then visiting at the reception.
I’ve introduced my wife to many coaches in the area since then, and Don’s probably her favorite … the one she mentions at the dinner table out of the wild blue, as in “How’s Coach Patrick?”