Retiring Patterson named Special Olympics Coach of the Year, to continue with Special Olympics

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

On Jun. 26, Keith Patterson, a special education teacher at Neosho High School for 22 years who retired at the end of the school year, was recognized as the 2020 Coach of the Year for Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) with over 20 years of volunteer service.

(SOMO) celebrated its 50th anniversary as an organization on Jun. 26, while welcoming athletes for the Team Missouri Selection Camp. 

After a banquet, SOMO recognized staff, athletes and volunteers that have made an impact over the last 50 years and to Patterson’s surprise, he was named coach of the year.  

Keith Patterson after being honored as the 2020 Special Olympics Coach of the Year in the state of Missouri.

“They named the four finalists and they said, ‘well, we're going to say a little bit about the winner,’” said Patterson. “And then they start reading off things that this person done. And it's about the third or fourth thing and it's like, ‘oh, I think that's me,’ It's shocking, I guess I would say.”

“It's wonderful,” added Patterson on being recognized. “but I have a great support staff. The school's administration, the principals whenever I was there, David Wallace, Bill Slade, Wendy Linton, all these other coaches were helpful. I couldn't have done it without all them. And of course, the parents and the kids themselves over the years. Without them, it wouldn't have happened.”

David Wallace, a special education teacher at Neosho for the past 15 years, has worked with Patterson and SOMO for the past 13 or 14.

“(Just) very excited for Keith,” said Wallace when asked about his reaction upon learning Patterson was named the coach of the year. “Keith is very committed to the athletes and the organization.”

Gail Shrouds took in their now son, Zach, from foster care when he was three and adopted him at age six. Zach just graduated in May and has known Patterson for much longer than the four-year duration of high school.

“Mr. Patterson has been one of, other than us, the few people in his life that have actually stayed,” said Shrouds. “To know (Zach) for years and years and has been there for the ups and downs rather than people that slid in and out of their lives.”

Shrouds said Zach remembers Patterson all the way back from the third grade on.

“He loves Mr. Patterson, he was really sad to graduate,” said Shrouds. “He had continued interaction with the special education teachers year after year unlike other students that change (teachers) every year. There’s a small group of special education teachers they see year after year, he’s basically seen Mr. Patterson every year since the third grade. Mr. Patterson has seen a lot of these kids come in as youngsters, elementary kids, and go all the way through graduation.”

Patterson got his degree in special education from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma and spent all but two and a half of his 24 years teaching in Neosho.

Wendy Linton, a former special education teacher and counselor at Neosho, had asked Patterson to help coach Special Olympics in Neosho many years ago and when she moved on, he stepped in.

“If Keith would not have stepped up when Wendy retired, the program would have disbanded,” said Wallace, who got involved with SOMO because of Patterson and Linton.

Prior to coaching with SOMO, Patterson had experience as a referee at the high school and junior high levels with football and basketball. He also coached a couple of years of Little League back in the 80s. Sports had always been a part of his life and he said it was a natural fit.

“I liked doing it,” said Patterson when asked about his initial experience the first couple of years. “It just depended on the kids and to me and it gave them a chance to compete, be competitive, but also it really turned into working with their social skills and gave some kids that never had a chance to travel, leave their home. So, we gave them a chance.”

Patterson said there weren’t really any differences from working with SOMO and his coaching and referring experience, saying he worked with and treated everyone the same.

Luckily for SOMO and Neosho, although he is retiring from teaching, that isn’t the case for SOMO. He’ll still be helping coordinate  and coach bowling, basketball and track and field which are the three SOMO sports in Neosho.

“I look forward to his involvement in any capacity keeping the program going,” said Wallace. “His dedication to the athletes and involvement means so much to the athletes.”

“Patterson loves the kids, loves Special Olympics and loves seeing the kids get their medals,” said Shrouds. “He loves taking them out to eat, to states, to motels and to the pool. He’s like the pied piper, wherever he is there’s just a crowd of kids following him around. He’s like the den mother. He’s the rock of the Special Olympics program for all of the children, they love him to death.”

The three Special Olympic sports at Neosho essentially means a yearlong schedule, but for Patterson the reward is watching the kids be able to compete.

“When you’re watching the kids, and say you weren't having a good day or you weren't in very good mood or whatever it be,” said Patterson. “When you’re able to see them to compete and get a medal, there's nothing better.”