Sunday, February 14, 2010

Doesn't she deserve one too?

(This was written over a year ago and I still stand by it)

The she I am refering to is Alabama Gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson.

The item in reference is a statue of Patterson outside of Coleman Coliseum.

All four coaches who have won national football championships at Alabama prior to 2009 had statues erected of them in the Walk of Champions pathway that leads to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Because he was such a forward thinker, athletic director Mal Moore created a fifth area for a future statue that will now belong to Nick Saban.

Works are already in the way for the Saban statue to be finished prior to the kick off of the 2010 season. But my question is what about Sarah Patterson? Doesn't she deserve one in front of Coleman Coliseum?

The numbers don't lie about Patterson's success over her 32 years as Alabama's only gymnastics coach. She started the program from scratch arriving from Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania and has built the Tide into one of the top 3 programs in the country her entire career.

4-national championships (make that 5!)
7-national runner-up
6-SEC Championships (make that 7)
24-NCAA Regional Championships (now 26)
25-top six finishes (now 27)
27-consecutive years that Alabama has qualified for the national championship competition (now 29)
238 All Americans
21 individual National Champions
3 time SEC Coach of the Year and 4 time National Coach of the Year

Impressive eh? Notice we haven't even mentioned the academic and All-SEC recognitions yet! Nor have we said anything about beating Auburn 99 (now its like 102, but who's counting?)times in a row!

But what is more remarkable is that Patterson started with nothing. Coach Paul Bryant hired her to begin women's gymnastics in the late 1970's, which was a result of the Title IX movement. She's built the model program in the nation, one which others pattern themselves after (no pun intended). More SEC schools are adding gymnastics and they are trying to follow Alabama's lead.

It is routine for Alabama gymanstics to draw over 12-13,000 fans for their home meets on Friday nights. Patterson has marketed her program just as well as she coaches it. The vast majority of the ticket buyers are not the same people you see at football and basketball games. Darkened arenas, disco ball, firework introductions followed by ticket deals marketing to families are part of the key to her success. She's created future generations of fans that will sustain the program as long as their is continued success. She gets out and markets her program. She's media savvy, as she has always been willing to let anyone come and shoot practice, no matter if its ESPN or some student journalist working on a story for the campus station.

(Side note: How fan friendly is UA gymnastics? Several girls from my daughter's gym team went to the SEC championships in Birmingham a few weeks ago. One of the parents had emailed Coach Patterson about possibly meeting the team at the meet. Unfrortunately, the email was not read until after the event, but all of the girls that attended the SEC meet received personalized autographed posters from the entire team this week, which of course is now a National Championship poster!)

While local meterologists were warning people to stay home Friday night because of some unpercedented snow throughout Alabama, Patterson was on the Paul Finebaum Radio Show ensuring everyone that the meet between the #2 Tide and # 6 Florida Gators would take place that evening. Despite warnings to stay home, over 12,000 fans filled Coleman despite the fact that ESPN was also broadcasting the meet. You can bet their will be another 12,000 or more this Friday too.

As sad as it is to say, one can make the argument that gymanstics is really the #2 sport at Alabama, ahead of basketball and baseball. Name another school that could make that argument for gymnastics?

The sport has grown so much (thanks to Patterson) that the SEC has moved the Gymnastics Championships away from campus locations for the last decade, letting places like Nashville, Birmingham and Duluth, GA host the event. This year it moves to Jacksonville.

Alabama had football tradition before Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and Nick Saban arrived at the Capstone. It didn't even have a balance beam before Patterson arrived. Now it has a state of the art practice facility, a $35 million dollar renovation to Coleman Coliseum and the top program in the country.

Now all we need is that statue outside of Coleman...

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