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April 2, 2012

Different kind of running

John Patterson of Jefferson resigns to enter the political race

For the past 29 years, John Patterson has been helping shape the youth of Jefferson as a high school history teacher, Model United Nations advisor and, for the past 12 years, as the Falcons boys cross country coach.

As the leader of the cross country program, the Falcons reached the state meet three times over the past 12 years, taking eighth place in 2000, third in 2002 and 15th in 2011.

Now, Patterson is moving on to a new calling – politics.

Patterson ran unopposed as the democratic nominee for the Ohio House of Representatives in the 99th District.

With an impending race against incumbent Rep. Casey Kozlowsk looming, Patterson turned in his resignation to the Jefferson Board of Education earlier this week.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, it’s been part of my life for 29 years now,” he said.

After helping guide his team to the state meet this past season, Patterson was pleased with how his tenure as cross country coach ended.

“It really was a thrill to go out in such fine fashion,” he said. “Our boys worked hard all the way through my time and as a result, we had three trips to the state meet in 12 years.

“Here’s another thing to consider — out of those 12 years, we qualified for regionals nine times. When seniors left, freshmen came in and we were able to blend in a number of people together so we always attempted to be as competitive as possible.”

While memories of leading such accomplished teams are special to Patterson, he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to coach both his sons, Joshua and Jeremiah.

As it happens, one of the reasons he fell into the Falcons’ coaching job a dozen years ago was because Joshua was entering his freshman year of cross country and Jefferson was left without a coach.

“I never envisioned myself as a cross country coach, I was always a baseball guy,” he said. “Running was kind of an accident. Scott Francis had resigned to leave for Kirtland and my oldest son was a freshman. (Athletic director) Steve (Locy) asked if I was interested and I thought, ‘Oh well I think I can do it.’

“I couldn’t envision 12 years of coaching let alone the success we had. I was blessed with great kids, supportive parents and a wife (Nancy) who really understood and continues to support me. I was surrounded by family.”

While having at least one of his sons on the team for his first six seasons and the support of his wife, of whom he has been married to for 29 years, helped ease the transition to cross country, Patterson also had plenty of support from the Jefferson family.

“I was also surrounded by great people,” he said. “Gary Thaxton (who also retired after the 2011 season) on the girls side, Bruce Becker was there at the beginning. Dave Pickary was also a big help and joined us for a couple seasons. Then, the last few, T.J. Furman helped.

“It was nothing I did. It was the people around me and the boys. I just did the paper work.”

While the ever-modest Patterson won’t take much credit for the success that Falcons had under his watch, he does hope to serve the greater good in the 99th District.

As much as he enjoyed his time as teacher and coach, Patterson believes he can make a significant impact in the realm of politics.

“It was a hard decision to leave my team, to leave the U.N. kids, leave my classes at Jefferson and all my dear friends, but I was at a point in my life where I could take our collective battle to Columbus,” he said. “I’ve always believed and taught we have to stand up at times in our life to fight for the right thing and this was my time.

“Being active with the young people, I sense their need, their urgency to address the school-funding problem. The other thing is that my faith is important to me and we have to reach out and help one another and this is just a way in which I can attempt to help others. The whole teaching profession is about helping make kids better adults and it was an absolute privilege and honor to serve the youth of Jefferson.”

As he looks back on his coaching career, Patterson said two memories stick out.

“The last workout we had before my oldest son (Joshua, now 26) graduated, we were out on a brick road and his head was bobbing up and down and I just thought I had followed that head for four years and it was the last time,” he said. “Then, my youngest son (Jeremiah, now 24), his last race... he hoped to make it to state, it didn’t happen but we shared a special time.

“When you take off the uniform for the last time, you’ve heard people talk about that moment. It’s another chapter in life.”

The 1974 Jefferson graduate said it’s tough to put into words how it feels to move on from teaching and coaching cross country.

“How can you describe it?” he said. “It is an absolute privilege to be a part of their (the athletes) life. You really get to know a kid when you spend so much time in the summer and fall. The bus trips are incredibly long. It’s different than other sports.”

That difference, according to Patterson, comes from the fact that all runners on the team compete in every race, opposed to sports like football or basketball, where certain players have to sit on the bench.

“It’s pure competition, based on all the kids working together,” he said. “There’s no competition within the team and that allows for a more interactive relationship with the coach. I don’t know how to describe it.

“Everyone plays all the time. If you’re healthy, you’re out there. End of story. There is no coach’s decisions. The kids are able to learn and make good decisions as they run, which will translate into good decisions as they run through life.”

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