Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball coach Bill Patrick, shown here coaching Whitko in the late 1970s, will coach his 1,000th varsity game Saturday night when Valley hosts Plymouth. Photo provided
Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball coach Bill Patrick, shown here coaching Whitko in the late 1970s, will coach his 1,000th varsity game Saturday night when Valley hosts Plymouth. Photo provided
AKRON – Tippecanoe Valley High School boys basketball coach Bill Patrick is on the cusp of yet another milestone.
Already a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the coach with a 718-280 career record is scheduled to coach his 1,000th varsity game Tuesday at Northfield.
Valley was scheduled to play at Northfield tonight, but weather forced the game to be postponed, making Saturday's home game against Plymouth No. 999 in his coaching career.
Patrick, who doesn't celebrate many milestones, had a typical response when asked what 1,000 games means to him.
“I guess it means you've been doing it a while,” the soft-spoken Patrick said Tuesday night from his home.
He has definitely been doing it for a quite a while – 45 seasons to be exact.
Beginning his coaching career at Sidney with an 83-61 win over Leesburg in 1963, it wasn't just basketball he was coaching at his alma mater.
“Actually in the first year I coached, I coached baseball, basketball, track and we also had volleyball,” he said. “We won the conference at South Whitley in volleyball. We were pretty good.”
After one season at Sidney, from which he graduated in 1954, the school closed, and Patrick went on to coach four seasons at South Whitley before it was consolidated into Whitko, a school he coached at for 24 seasons.
During his tenure at Whitko he won nine sectionals and two regionals, but his highlight was the 1990-91 squad that reached the state finals, falling to Gary Roosevelt, 83-53.
Led by Steve Nicodemus, Patrick's Wildcats won the Columbia City Sectional by knocking off Manchester 76-65 in the final. After the sectional, the road against much larger schools began, but Whitko didn't flinch, defeating Fort Wayne South (75-72), New Haven (73-72), LaPorte (87-73) and Marion (68-59) en route to the state finals.
The chance to knock off the big boys in the postseason tournament is one of the biggest changes Patrick's seen as class basketball went into effect in the 1997-98 season.
However, class basketball isn't the only change he’s seen over the years.
“In my first 100 games, it was THE sport in the state of Indiana,” he said. “There was one class and it was pretty much the only thing going on on a Friday night. Now, there's a lot of things going on on a Friday night. One of the biggest changes is students attending the games. Back when I started coaching, a majority of the students came to the games, because it was the thing to do on a Friday night. Now, you don't get the student participation that you did a few years ago.”
Leaving Whitko after the 1994-95 season, Patrick sat out three seasons before going to Tippecanoe Valley, where he has won 10 conference championships, five sectional crowns and one regional.
Amazingly, those three seasons between jobs at Whitko and Valley are the only time Patrick has missed a game.
Not even a ruptured spleen could keep him off the sideline.
Following a 58-40 home win over Northfield in Jan. of 2007, Patrick was in a car accident involving a deer during his drive home.
Despite his injuries, he was right back on the sideline for Valley's next game at Rochester, a game the Vikings lost 51-47.
“(His son and assistant coach) Chad (Patrick) coached and I was behind the bench, but I didn't miss a game,” he said.
“There was a chance I would miss that one, and I probably shouldn't have gone,” he added. “I've probably gone to a lot of games that I shouldn't have, as far as being under the weather a little bit.”
And he hasn't just coached a lot of games, he's won a lot as well.
Patrick’s 718 wins are second among active coaches, 11 behind Pat Rady of Coverdale, and he ranks fourth all-time in the state, behind Jack Butcher (806), Rady (729) and Howard Sharpe (723).
In reaching that many victories, Patrick  didn't have a losing season in his first 39 seasons.
His first losing campaign came in 2008-09, a team that went 4-17, followed by a 8-13 season and 7-14 the following year.
“We had those three years when we struggled, and we knew it would be a little bit of a struggle,” he said. “I think it was 39 years without a losing season and I had some people that wanted me to kind of get out of it and end my coaching career without ever having a losing season. I don't know if you're involved in coaching just totally for the winning and losing. You're involved because you enjoy coaching and being involved with the kids.”
Sticking with it, the Vikings finished 16-5 in 2011-12 and won the Class 3A Sectional 21 championship last year with a 60-51 victory over the NorthWood Panthers.
“We had some young kids starting, like Nick Kindig and Tanner Andrews, and they got the program back on track again,” Patrick said of the two 1,000-point members that received playing time as young players. “Last year, that was probably as fun of a group to coach as any I've had. They just began to put things together at the end of the season and played very well in the sectional.”
Valley appears to be back on track, entering Saturday night's game against Plymouth with a 5-2 record.
Following the non-conference contest, it will be time for game No. 1,000, a game Patrick couldn't have conceived would happen in his first game at Sidney back in 1963.
“When you start coaching, you don't really look that far ahead,” he said. “I never had any idea that I'd be coaching this long. It takes a lot of time and a lot of games. When you start, you don't even think about numbers like that.
“You have to have some breaks along the way to coach as long as I have,” he added. “Your health has to be good and you have to be pretty successful. Years ago, and even today, if you were not successful, you didn't last very long in the job.”
Health seems to be the deciding factor as to how long he will go.
“You never know, health-wise, what's going to happen,” Patrick said. “At some point, I'm going to have to consider getting out of it. Probably, a couple years - maybe.”
For now, he's going to continue to run practices, something he hopes the weather will permit this week, and let others count up his wins and games coached.
“It all means something, but I guess it doesn't mean as much to me as it would to someone else,” he said of the milestones. “I'm just thankful that I've been able to coach that long. I still enjoy it and I'm fortunate to still be able to coach some good athletes and some good kids.”