The details of 36 years’ worth of coaching cloud in Jan Patterson’s memories.So many athletes, so many practices, so many games to try and remember. Thinking back on her lengthy career, Patterson alternates between smiles and laughs, mostly. Occasionally, she tears up at a particular thought — but out of happiness and never sadness.
But the story of how Jan came to stay in the Platte County R-3 School District involves a self-made athletic career at the University of Missouri, two job offers and a marriage built on faith, dedication and her ability to do 1,000 sit-ups in a day. These circumstances helped create a legendary figure in coaching and a lasting legacy that won’t end just because she retired last month at the age of 57.
“I never really thought that I would probably be around that long. I didn’t even think about it honestly,” Jan said during an interview at her home earlier this month.
Jan Patterson’s first job at Platte County involved teaching physical education — kindergarten through eighth grade — and coaching intramural sports. When hired in 1979, there were only three interscholastic sports offered to girls and no need for help at that level.
“I wanted to be a coach, but honestly, I felt like I could do anything,” she said. “Really, there was nothing to do over at the high school.”
That changed when Kathy Hatfield came to Platte County from Kearney and recruited Jan to an assistant position for track and field and then volleyball and then basketball. The pair became close friends through Hatfield’s 22 years of coaching, and they stayed together even for a brief tenure as girls basketball coaches at neighboring West Platte.
Jan ended up sticking with volleyball throughout her career while eventually giving up track and basketball while adopting and leaving softball duties in between. Ironically, volleyball was one of the few sports she didn’t have experience with while growing up.
Yet, Jan found her calling there and took over as head coach in 2003 for Hatfield, a 2007 inductee into the Pirate Hall of Fame who died in 2010.
In 12 years, Jan accrued a record of 249-125-25, winning three Suburban Conference titles and three district titles (Class 3 in 2007 and 2008 and Class 4 in 2014). She helped build up a program that went a decade without a playoff appearance by adopting new philosophies and adjusting to meet changes in the sport that required year-round dedication.
Jan’s final two seasons were the best in school history, and she made the difficult decision to leave, unable to continue coaching while retiring from teaching.
Platte County recently named Shelby Hoffman, 25, to replace Jan. Most recently a physical education teacher at Barry School and Pathfinder Elementary, Hoffman moves into Platte City Middle School to take over Jan’s vacant position — the same one she’s held since first coming to the district in 1979.
Hoffman will be a first-year head coach.
“It’s certainly a different role,” said Hoffman, who played three years of varsity in high school at Truman (Mo.), participated in intramurals at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo. while obtaining her degree, first coached at Lee’s Summit North and served as a varsity assistant with Jan this past season. “Not just with coaching but teaching as well. I’ve said it to her I don’t know how many times: ‘I’ve got big shoes to fill.’ I’m excited.
“I am young, and I look young. But I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I still have that love (for volleyball).”
“When I was little, I loved ball, and I loved my dad,” she said. “I did them all. Whatever I started doing, I did pretty good.”
Jan remembers swimming and biking at ane
arly age before picking up softball around the age of eight. When she made her way to Chillicothe High School in 1972, options for athletics were slim. The Hornets’ only offering at the time was tennis, played in the spring her first two years and the fall after that.
Eventually, Jan also went out for track and field in her final two years and then basketball as a senior when Chillicothe revived its girls program after a hiatus of nearly 50 years.
Jan played singles in tennis her final three seasons and went 7-3 as the No. 1 player as a senior. She led the basketball team in scoring and excelled in track, mostly in the now-retired softball throw, shot put and hurdles.
Most of these opportunities became available thanks to the passage of Title IX in 1972 and changed her professional options as she continued through college and into education.
“It’s just been exciting to see girls sports evolve to the point where they’re getting as many opportunities as what the boys are getting,” Jan said. “At first it bothered me because the girls didn’t get those opportunities so I wanted to make sure that all of the kids I coached knew: ‘Hey, you guys are getting a lot of these opportunities I never had.’
“It would be good for the kids to remember that because I think a lot of them take it for granted.”
After graduation in 1975, Jan went on to the University of Missouri in Columbia and found a way to continue her career for four years. She tried out and made the tennis team as a freshman in the fall and then decided to do the same for softball in the spring.
Once she made the Tigers’ first team in school history, her tennis career ended.
“At that time, I wasn’t recruited or anything like that,” Jan said. “I’m not sure how much recruiting they started doing at that point.”
Jan played softball for four years — shortstop as a freshman, third base as a sophomore and outfield as a junior. Each year a new player came in and took her spot, leaving her with a chance to catch in her final season, but she had never played that spot before.
“I don’t know anything about it, but I might as well try,” she said of her mentality to the final switch — an attitude which also served her well in coaching.
A shy Chris Patterson wandered across the street in the summer of 1978, hoping to meet a house full of girls. At least that’s the way his wife tells the story now. Instead, he found Jan Miller and none of her housemates.
That’s how their relationship started.
A discussion — maybe a small argument — about the difference between male and female athletes sparked the first date. Chris insisted that Jan couldn’t do 1,000 situps in a day. She begged to differ, and a bet for a date was made.
Waking early, Jan did 100 situps every hour and achieved the feat with Chris holding her feet for the final set. Chris made good on the bet.
“The next week or whatever it was, when we could work it out, he took me out to dinner,” Jan said. “That’s how it started.”
Jan agreed to a movie, too. They went and saw Grease starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, but that first date didn’t immediately blossom into a romance.
At first, Jan hesitated on a committed relationship, telling Chris she only wanted to date a man she thought she could marry. She wanted a man who was stronger in his Christian faith — a stance that surprised her, even as she told Chris.
“Right after we had that conversation, I was walking home because you get out of that conversation about as quick as you can,” said Chris, a freelance photographer who occasionally works for The Citizen. “In the meantime, I was praying, and I just kind of did a little business with God, and said, ‘You know what God? She’s right.’
“It didn’t really have anything to do with wooing her over because that ship had sailed.”
However, Jan noticed the changes Chris made and eventually she made some romantic advances. Religion intervened to help Chris and that just so happened to steer him back toward his wife of 35 years.
The pair dated mostly on but occasionally off while Jan finished up her degree, and they eventually wed in 1980. Their careers kept them in the Kansas City area, helping Jan stay in Platte City for nearly four decades.
Jan Patterson interviewed at two places on the same day — June 4, 1979 to be exact. She remembers because that coincided with a partial collapse of Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, the news breaking to her on the radio on the way.
First up: Platte County, which she enjoyed but didn’t receive an immediate offer. Later in the day, she went to Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, Mo. to interview for a high school job. She received an immediate offer to teach in the high school along with one unexpected duty — maintenance of the on-campus pool.
With a little nudge from a former classmate at Chillicothe already teaching at Platte County, Jan quickly received the counteroffer, and she came to Platte City for her first job. Jan first lived in the then-brand-new Brandywine Apartments, but Chris’ job search in the legal profession presented a potential crossroads.
“Wherever we decide to go, that’s where we’re going to be,” she remembers Chris telling her. “And he said, ‘You might as well plan on being there for a lifetime.’”
Eventually, Chris picked a Kansas City firm and began his practice. The pair relocated to the Wau Lin Cree Apartments, just off NW Barry Rd. in Kansas City, Mo., but Jan remained with the Platte County School District.
That’s when faith intervened again to nudge the couple to Platte City.
Originally, Chris — a Columbia, Mo. native and Hickman High School graduate — balked at living in “a small town.” However, he changed his mind after Platte County principal Benny Pierce helped introduce him to Young Life, an evangelical Christian ministry geared toward youth. At that point, Jan and Chris were both commuting from Kansas City to Platte City — her for assistant volleyball, basketball and track duties, him after work for Young Life activities.
Eventually, Chris decided moving to Platte City would be best for their interests and gas tanks.
“At different times, I might have been stronger or she might have been stronger (in our faith), but yeah, in any marriage, as you go along the years, it made us stronger and helped us through times that were tougher,” said Chris, who worked as a Young Life leader for 27 years and continues to serve in a limited capacity to this day. “I’d say we were both really on the same page as far as loving Christ and doing what he wanted us to do and really living our life around that.”
That life remains in Platte City.
Jan eventually served as Platte County’s head softball coach from 1995 to 1998 before ceding the post when the state made the decision to move the sport exclusively to the fall season. She returned to basketball and volleyball duties alongside Hatfield, who retired in 2003.
Given another shot to be a head coach, Jan replaced Hatfield starting with the 2003 season and gave up the rest of her coaching duties. She coached three of Platte County’s four players to appear on the Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches Association all-state teams (Molley Scanlon in 2008, Taylor Johnson in 2010 and Maren Mair in 2014) and built the Pirates into a powerhouse.
In 2013, Platte County moved up to the state’s largest classification but still posted a 31-6-0 record and accumulated the most wins in school history. The Pirates were even better in 2014, going 33-3-2 and setting another record while reaching the Class 4 quarterfinals before losing to Liberty for the third time on the season.
Not the storybook finish but good enough to allow Jan to step away.
“I’d rather keep coaching if I could, but I started thinking about it about four years ago,” Jan said. “These kids, I knew, would be really good.”
Hoffman already agreed to allow Jan to volunteer on a limited basis for the upcoming season. How long she remains in that role remains to be seen, but for now, Platte County’s first-year coach remains grateful to have such a wealth of knowledge at her disposal during the transition.
“She has definitely paved the road, not just with drills but the attitude that the girls use at practice,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t ask for a better path ahead of me than what she’s already set with the standard she’s set.”
During the past 36 years, the legend of Jan Patterson became a part of Platte County lore.
During PE classes, Jan outran the class in the mile run. Did she really run them in 4½ minutes? Which episode of American Gladiators did she appear on? Can she really bench press more weight than most of the football team?
Not all of the stories were true.
Jan’s fastest mile was probably around 5:20. She did try to qualify to be a participant on American Gladiators, passing the first few tests but not quite fast enough in the sprints. She’s not a weight lifter.
In reality, Jan became an accomplished triathlete, winning her age group or the overall competition at numerous local and national events. This only added to her already established athletic pedigree, which her players weren’t always familiar with at the time.
Jan was just the assertive but caring coach, known to patrol the halls at school or the sidelines on the court/field with a pencil tucked behind her ear using motivational quotes to inspire students.
“She was always positive. She always turned everything negative around,” said Carrie (Bower) Stephens, a 1998 graduate who played softball and volleyball for Patterson. “I kept so much high school memorabilia. I have nine or 10 personally hand written cards from her — from after a big game or after a season, after I graduated high school or graduated college. She’s just very passionate, very passionate about everything she does.
“A lot of the things she taught me, I use in my every day life.”
In recent years, Jan stepped away from most of the physical activity. Doctors replaced her left hip 12 years ago. She has developed arthritis in most of her joints. This past summer, she underwent spinal surgery which delayed her start to the volleyball season.
No running or jumping anymore.
But Jan can still coach, and she won’t step away from the game just yet. She admits the transition to full retirement will be difficult, but when the time comes to leave, her legacy will remain — an unmatched influence on the development of girls sports in the Platte County R-3 School District.
Just don’t expect Jan to take all the credit.
“It hasn’t just been me. Believe me,” Jan said. “There’s been several people around that have helped our program be what it is. The assistant coaches that have helped; the players that have played for us and know what to expect, that take it seriously and work hard and put everything into it.” Jan’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed.
A collection of former players started a Facebook group and played off an old tradition to celebrate her retirement. You see, players used to “TP” her house each year, the ancient art of decorating someone’s lawn, trees and shrubbery with rolls of toilet paper as a gag. This time, Christy (Peterson) Fulk led the effort to supply neatly stacked rolls of toilet paper in the driveway, each one with a personal note from a former player stuffed inside.
Jan arrived home from work on her final day of teaching to find the display in the driveway of her home on Hale Avenue. At first confused by the “reverse TP celebration,” she pulled out one note and read it. The rest were collected to be read inside where her true emotions pour out.
“Because after 36 years of teaching, coaching hundreds of female athletes,” read the white letters on the black sign affixed with orange and black streamers attached, “30+ years of winning seasons, you deserve to only have TP in your bathroom and never in your trees again. Thanks coach for your dedication to PCR3.”
A simple message befitting Jan’s legacy.