December 9th, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: Carolyn Patton

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Carolyn Patton
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Long-time coach still leading St. Rita school athletics      

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to

Carolyn Patton has become synonymous with St. Rita athletics. As the exacting coach, the demanding athletic director and the strong personality that leads the school, Patton has coached her teams to success on the courts, the fields and in life.

The self-admitted competitor, Patton grew up in Germantown and was a successful volleyball, basketball and softball (called “mushball” back then) player at the now-closed St. Elizabeth school, across from Manual stadium. The standout athlete attended Mercy Academy, class of 1965, and played volleyball and basketball for the Jaguars because softball wasn’t offered at the high school level then.

While still a senior at Mercy, Patton was asked to coach her grade school alma mater’s volleyball team. At 18 years old, not only did she get to coach her team, but she coached them to a championship in her one season as coach. It is those deep ties to the CSAA that have led her to her long-standing position as coordinator of boys volleyball, as well as serving on the board of the girls volleyball committee with the organization.

She played basketball when it was still a game of six-on-six. She played volleyball when they had eight players on a side and practiced the game outdoors on the pavement. She has not changed or wavered in her principles since that first season coaching the St. Elizabeth girls.

“The Catholic high schools had a city league with Sacred Heart, Assumption, Mercy, Presentation, Angela Merici, Loretta and Ursuline. And we did win city,” Patton proudly recalled. “We played volleyball with eight players and there wasn’t a whole lot of subbing in and out of games.”

Patton has watched the growth and development of volleyball in the city through the years. Indeed, she’s helped oversee its growth at every school in the CSAA. That first team at St. Elizabeth was a special one to her as she coached her younger sister and still honors the memory of that accomplishment.

“The sport (volleyball) has just grown and grown and grown,” she said. “When you put your whole heart into a game, it just makes you better. I was fortunate to learn the game, play the game and then coach a bunch of 7th and 8th graders to a championship at old St. George’s gym on a marble floor. It was a neighborhood school and a real honor to coach that team. My younger sister played for me and it was a real sense of pride for our community. You never forget that stuff. Ever.”

That one year of coaching in 1965 evolved into her coaching softball too. She coached a team of 18 and under teenage girls in the summers. She got married in 1966, had two children, Missy (Mercy ’85) and Christopher (DeSales), who both attended St. Rita. And when her oldest child Missy was ready to start playing sports in the 5th grade, that’s when Patton took over as the volleyball and softball coach at the school.

She did all of this while working as the familiar face of the attendance clerk at Fairdale High School over four decades. Patton presided over her kids’ athletic development, too. Her daughter was a standout volleyball and softball player at Mercy and was on the first softball state championship team in 1985. Her son was a baseball player at DeSales. She’s spent her “retirement” watching her grandson play football at DeSales, coaching the volleyball and softball teams at St. Rita, and for the past 18+ years serving as Athletic Director at St. Rita.

And she shows no signs of stopping.

“I got to meet a lot of kids who turned out to be great athletes,” she said. “I’m a fundamentalist when it comes to coaching. There’s no replacement for good fundamentals. No matter how talented an athlete is, they have to know what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it. My teams always drilled the fundamentals.”

She coached her teams with the same type of competitiveness she learned as a player. At St. Rita, she taught her players to earn their time and to play with a respect for the game and their opponents.

“I get so involved with the kids when I’m coaching,” she said. “Winning is great, but that’s not what it’s all about. You have to learn how to lose, how to be a good sport about it. I’m sure so many of my players thought I was mean when I coached them, but so many come back to see me and say thanks for being their coach. Now I have their kids and that’s a blessing.”

She oversees a program at St. Rita that includes the best football field in the CSAA, due in large part to the great pride of the volunteers who take care of it. And though the numbers are dwindling a bit at the school, she prepares her teams with that same exacting, demanding nature with which she started in 1965.

“I loved to play the games and kept playing until I was forty,” she says. “I’ve led a blessed life. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.”

And from the sounds of it, it will be years before she hangs up her whistle.


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