Anchored by the Classic Learning Test

Athletics as Virtue in Action | Joe Patterson

March 21, 2024 Classic Learning Test
Athletics as Virtue in Action | Joe Patterson
Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
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Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
Athletics as Virtue in Action | Joe Patterson
Mar 21, 2024
Classic Learning Test

On this episode of Anchored, Soren is joined by Joe Patterson, Vice President of Enrollment and Director of Athletics at Ave Maria University. The two discuss the proper relationship between higher education and sports, as well as the importance of keeping a school’s mission in focus even where athletic programming is concerned. 

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Anchored, Soren is joined by Joe Patterson, Vice President of Enrollment and Director of Athletics at Ave Maria University. The two discuss the proper relationship between higher education and sports, as well as the importance of keeping a school’s mission in focus even where athletic programming is concerned. 

Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:00.962)
Welcome back to the Anchored Podcast, the official podcast of the Classic Learning Test. My name is Soren Schwab, VP of Partnerships here at CLT, and today we're joined by Joe Patterson. Joe serves as the Vice President for Enrollment, Director of Athletics, and Head Football Coach at Aave Maria University. Mr. Patterson has worked at AMU since February 2016, coming to Southeast Florida after a 19-year stint as an educator and coach at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C.

Joe Patterson (00:22.219)
I'm just...

Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:30.158)
He took on the role as AMU's Director of Athletics in 2020. And since then, the number of students under the umbrella of athletics has increased from 390 to 700 students, all while setting record marks for GPA and retention. Currently serving in his eighth season as the school's head football coach, his teams have played in three conference championships, games winning one of them. Mr. Patterson also serves as the VP for enrollment.

Joe Patterson (00:48.398)
Thank you.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:58.23)
and Aby Maria University currently has its largest student population in its history. Mr. Patterson earned his master's degree in educational leadership from the Catholic University of America. He and his wife have six children, the two oldest of whom attend Aby Maria University, and we're delighted to have you, Joe. Welcome.

Joe Patterson (01:03.792)
Thank you.

Joe Patterson (01:16.431)
Thank you so much, I'm excited.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (01:18.446)
You know, when my colleague told me about this interview, I got really excited because I love education, I love academics, but I really love sports. So I'm excited to talk about athletics today. And as we always do in the Anchored Podcast, we're going to talk about our guests own educational journey. So my first question to you, talk to us a little bit about growing up. What kind of schools did you attend, kind of K-12?

Joe Patterson (01:43.886)
Great, so I've actually been involved in Catholic education since age five until now age 49 every year. All right, so kindergarten through eighth grade at a parochial school in Washington, DC. From there, I followed my three brothers to St. John's College High School, as you mentioned, which at the time was all boys, all military, and was there for four years. During that time, it went coed and it went optional military, but remained Christian brother of a salient school.

went off to Villanova in Augustinian school, was there for four years. And then towards the end of that, I was set to go to Georgetown University to get my PhD, but the whole coaching, teaching thing sort of came into my heart and went back to my high school and started coaching and teaching there. And during that time, I got my master's at Catholic University.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (02:40.442)
Wow, so you really are a product from beginning to end of Catholic education. That's actually rare kind of given the interviews. And so that's really neat to see and going kind of back to the place that you attended yourself. So when it comes to athletics, I assume you were an athlete yourself. When did you fall in love with sports? Was it at St. John's or how did that come about? And then, of course, when and why did you fall in love with the coaching piece?

Joe Patterson (03:10.53)
Great, yeah, so, well, that's a charitable assumption to believe that I was an athlete. I, not many people mistake me for that if they see me. I'm 5'6", 135, well, not 135 pounds anymore, but I was at one point. So, fell in love with athletics very early, had three older brothers, started playing tackle football in the fourth grade, played throughout high school, did not necessarily finish high school with the love of the game as I did previously.

That's one of the reasons why I really wanted to get into coaching, I think, was to have that. But yeah, so I didn't play college ball. I took a very different route in college. I went on an academic scholarship, but I was editor of the newspaper, so I assigned myself the sports program. So I assigned myself Villanova basketball, which is great, and Villanova football, which is great. So I kept close to it to some degree there, but

Really at the end of my time in college, I knew I wanted to, I felt I wanted to get into ministry, but I also felt called to the married life. And I thought that teaching and coaching was the best avenue for that. And I'm prejudiced, of course, in the sense of football, but I do think football is a wonderful sports for so many reasons, right? So I chose football to be what I was gonna coach.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (04:39.13)
Was there anything in particular that attracted you about the coaching? Maybe sometimes with teachers you hear that, right? Or what got you into teaching? Well, I had this one teacher in sixth grade and who kind of inspired me. Was there a moment in particular or was it kind of throughout the years where you just felt like, that's something I could be, I'm interested in, but also I could be good at?

Joe Patterson (05:00.842)
Yeah, I think certainly as an athlete, I was really intrigued by the physicality of it and the teamwork side of it. And then coming back as a coach, still interested in teamwork side of it, but really interested in the X's and O's and the strategy. I think it's just a tremendous sport for that. But as I've stated it now, and this just finished my 27th year of coaching, it wasn't long after I got into coaching that really there

relationships became the primary driver.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (05:34.394)
So you're at one of my favorite colleges, Ave Maria University. We talked a little bit before that I got to visit and it's truly a special place. And we have a great relationship with them at CLT, great people there. I didn't know as much about the athletic program and talking to Adam Kinnick and others at Ave, it's like, wow, those numbers are incredible. And then of course, digging a little bit deeper, like, yeah, we got this guy.

right, that

Soren Schwab (CLT) (06:32.362)
There seems to be a little bit of attention sometimes with the big D1 flagship schools. They maybe focus on sports sometimes a little bit too much. But then the opposite is sometimes also the case. The smaller schools, maybe they even de-emphasize sports a little bit too much, because we're only focused on the academics. I'm curious, your philosophy of an athletic program in higher ed, that Aave Maria is very missionally aligned. It's a f***ing

Soren Schwab (CLT) (06:59.878)
faithfully Catholic University, but also emphasizes athletics. How do you balance that? When you joined, when you came in, what was your philosophy going into building that program?

Joe Patterson (07:13.354)
I'd like to, I guess, first comment on your observations about athletics in college. Because I think the size of the school doesn't necessarily determine how important athletics are to them. I think very often schools our size or not much bigger than ours really use athletics to drive enrollment. And there are some temptations involved there if you're using it to drive enrollment and you just got to be very cognizant of it.

because at the forefront of everything needs to be your mission. All right, so I'll say that to begin, but in regards to Ave Maria University, as you said, very faithful Catholic, but we're competing in a conference that's very competitive. We're in the NAIA, which is most similar to NCAA Division II, all right, and it's a good conference.

You mentioned that we had played in some conference championships, and that's something because our conference champion won the national championship for NAIA. So that's the same for several of the sports in our conference. So you're going to be competing against teams that recruit to win, and we have to recruit to win. But we also need to, of course, recruit in a manner that's going to be conducive to the student athlete's success here at the university and be

integral to the mission of the university. So at the beginning, you mentioned how many more athletes we have here, but that was done with tremendous intentionality. We do certainly have athletics as part of our enrollment strategy. We don't shy away from that. But we're also not going to compromise in any way. And the key there, of course, is to have the right coaches because we're not going to compromise

The last thing you want is for your athletics programs to stand as some type of scandal, right? So to have missionally aligned coaches who are doing the recruiting, because they're the ones who are gonna be vetting each of the students who they end up choosing to offer a scholarship to. But then on the other side, it's not simply about who we recruit, but also how we recruit, and we're very transparent about who we are, right? And I think that's really important. We don't expect to get...

Joe Patterson (09:35.798)
the vast majority of our recruits, right? Because we are a very orthodox Catholic school. And so we're very transparent, right? Seven Masses a day, perpetual adoration, daily confession. We were upfront about the rules of the dorms and it's not so much that we're trying to find people to whom that's acceptable, but actually that that's attractive to them, right? So that's where the key is that we're gonna be

as transparent as we can be at the forefront.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (10:13.186)
No, that's a really good point. And yeah, thanks for correcting me on that. You're absolutely right. The size does not necessarily of the university. I mean, there are some small schools that focus on sports a lot. I guess the perception of some students, too, is like, well, I want to be at a school that has all the sports. And then they think about, well, the Alabamas and the Clemsons and the Florida and the Florida states, in your case.

And oftentimes they don't necessarily think about, well, but it doesn't have to be a D1 school. It can be a smaller school, right, where you're being shepherded. But they still are competitive, right? Like just because it's a smaller school doesn't mean you're not competitive, especially in the NIA, that division that you are in. And so when it comes to recruiting, are there, I mean, obviously you mentioned your focus on missionally, right? Where you are as a...

as a university, when it comes to the individual student, are there certain things that you're looking for that you would say that is a great fit other than of course that student buying into your mission at AMU? Is there anything else in there either academic or personal that you're looking for in recruits?

Joe Patterson (11:29.918)
Yeah, I think that it's tough to really apply a cookie cutter for a number of reasons, right? We have a gospel imperative, right, to spread the word, so we don't necessarily want everyone to be exactly the same as they come in, right? I think that that's one of the great benefits of athletics is that there is, in a sense, a part of a mission to it, right? But no, yeah, we...

Our recruiting questionnaire asks certain questions for sure. Our application asks certain questions for sure. And there again, it's not so much to see exactly metrics one way or another, but just to make sure that it's a fit. Because once it's a fit, now you can really go, right? Now you can really have challenge involved. Now you can really go ahead and pursue virtue. I think that what attracts a lot of coaches to

athletics is not just the strategy and not just the competitive nature, but also that this is just a great training ground for life. And that's important.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (12:39.394)
Yeah, and that last point is perfect because it segues kind of into the next, you know, several questions that I want to pick your brain on because as a former athlete myself, I always felt like, you know, there's nothing and maybe I was a little naive, but there's nothing better for character formation than sports, right? It is such a good way to develop character. But I alluded to it a little bit earlier that

We're in this classical renewal, liberal arts renewal. I know Avi Maria is part of that, right? Faithfully Christian schools. And I have heard, especially from some of those schools, that both in K-12 and higher ed, that the athletics can get in the way. In the school fulfilling their mission, and that there can be a mission drift because of athletics. And you alluded to it earlier, I think, when you said that

Some schools recruit for the wrong reasons, or they're almost on an island here doing their own thing, which then is maybe not in alignment with the school's mission. Talk to me a little bit about the leadership structure at the university and how you ensure that there's not these different pockets that are recruiting that then potentially cause tension with the university's overall mission.

Joe Patterson (14:03.042)
Yeah, well, I think that the biggest part is in the hiring process. That when you're vetting the coaches, you're just ensuring that what you prioritize is what they prioritize. So you don't really have to have the same amount of oversight. Of course, we do have oversight, right? We do keep track of everything, right? It's sports, right? Everything can be measured. Everything can be measured, right?

We do engage in that, but you just got to spend extra time on the hiring process. And that, that is important. It's, it's labor intensive, the hiring process, because not only do you have the mission, but also you have the financial side, as you probably can guess that. The vast majority of my coaches are interested in hat or already have families. Right. So, uh, coaching is not the most.

monetarily rewarding endeavor. But you know, you talk about sort of the way it can go bad. I mean, like for every virtue that we could talk about, there's a corresponding advice, right? And oftentimes those vices are what we end up seeing in sports, right? Whether it's youth sports, high school sports, college sports, pro sports, right? As much as there is in athletics that points to humility,

There's certainly enough that can point to pride as well. And so that is real, right? It's not a foregone conclusion that athletics is beneficial, right? It can be, right? And it should be, but it doesn't necessarily follow that it always is.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (15:50.355)
That's a good point and I guess that is kind of from the top down. If those priorities are set properly, I mean, I'm just thinking, you have a smaller... What's the enrollment at Ava Maria, total enrollment?

Joe Patterson (16:03.806)
Just about 1200.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (16:05.766)
Well, fun, right? So smaller and a liberal arts Catholic school. If if tomorrow your president said, hey, Joe, you know, we got to grow our enrollment by X percent over the next couple of years. And, you know, you have the main job here. Just go out and find me people. Right. And really, your incentives are only to grow enrollment. That's very different from saying we as a university have a growth plan. And.

we feel like athletics is a good way to actually find mission fit students. I feel like it's a very different kind of mandate, right? Then it's only about the numbers versus it's about the numbers in the context of mission. So it sounds like you can have that support from top down to also say no to really good athletes that might not be a good mission fit and furthering their university's mission.

Joe Patterson (16:57.762)
Yeah, I think that you hit it, right? It has to be part of a plan that's integrated into the university as a whole. Obviously, I'm a football coach, right? So I'm coaching a large number of men, right? And at times that could be 15 to 20% of the men on campus, right? An easy way to get more men on campus is to grow our roster, right? This last year, we're at about 90 football players, one of the smallest college.

football programs in the country, right? Those in our conference typically have about 200 or more, right? Very common in division three, division two, to have well in excess of 150, 200. But we have a roster cap, and we have a roster cap for football, roster cap for a lot of our sports, because we have to not only preserve the culture of the university, but also the integrity of the athletic experience, right?

200 football players don't love football twice as much as us, right? It's more a matter of making sure that experience remains what it should be.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (18:09.214)
Yeah, that's a really, really good point. Well, let's talk. And we both alluded to it a little bit, the kind of the positive impact that sports can have on character, on formation, on virtue. Talk to us a little bit about that, kind of the connection between competing in sports and growing in character and virtue. How intentional are you and your coaches about really the formation of

of young men versus the formation of their skills, which of course is important as well.

Joe Patterson (18:44.046)
Great, great question. We have 25 different sports here. I wouldn't say that we have 25 different ways of doing this, but certainly each coach is gonna have his or her own way of doing this. But there are certain bedrock principles that I think that we all subscribe to at the university. I can sort of summarize them in three, and we can go in a lot of directions here, but I think fundamental to that.

athletics experience and one of the reasons why athletics is so valuable would be these three. So the first would be effort, right? We talk about outrageous effort. We talk about giving 100% effort, 100% of the time, right? We talk about student athlete, the idea that you don't have to choose between the two if you do it right, right? Just like later in life, if you're a father businessman, right, you're not going to...

turn one off and turn the other on, right? They're both very important to who you are. And so that's important. The student athlete requires effort, right? Like you can't even pursue your spirituality without effort, right? And this sort of misbegotten notion that there's a balance in life, right? Life comes at you at times, right? That's the way it's gonna be as a parent. That's the way it's gonna be.

in so many different ways and athletics is that way. We could be playing for first place in the conference the same week we have midterms, right? We're not gonna compromise either side of it, right? We're just gonna apply effort. So I think that's fundamental to athletics is that, right? It's just very natural to pursue things with great effort because you get exposed if you don't, right? Quickly, you get exposed on the field, you get exposed.

in the academics, you just get exposed if you're not applying great effort. But the second is toughness or resiliency, right? We talk about authentic toughness, right? It's not how you walk or how you talk, it's just who you are, right? Do you see those impediments as impediments or do you see them as challenges? And that's critical to life because we are custodians of our own happiness and happiness is a matter of perspective, right? How do you see life, right?

Joe Patterson (21:00.162)
Do you see that as something that's going to defeat you or is it going to be something that challenges you? And that's critical, I think. It's critical to being successful in athletics. It's critical to be happy in life. And certainly not tough to talk about toughness if we worship a God who came down into this world to be crucified for us, right? So we have the model, we apply that. But then the third bedrock principle that we talk about is love. We talk about love being a conquering love because love does conquer all.

if we allow it to, right? I think athletics more so than so many other training grounds really rewards those who desire what's good for others, right? That's called teamwork, right? And the idea that the first two, effort and toughness, are choices, so is love, right? We're gonna choose to do the desire, the good for somebody else and then to act upon it.

So those are sort of our bedrock principles, and those are gonna be interwoven to all of our sports. But as to the individual ministry of the coaches, that's gonna be to them to devise.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (22:09.818)
Thanks for sharing that. That's fascinating. I mentioned in the introduction too that not only has the number of athletes increased, you reach championships, right? The program is thriving, but also GPAs are, right? And kind of the academic performance of your athletes. And that kind of struck me when you mentioned, you know, you can have a really important game the same week you have midterms, right?

And I wasn't a college athlete, but I admired, I mean, truly admired the college athletes because, you know, they had to put in a lot more effort to keep both of those. But I've also seen folks that maybe focused a bit more on the athletic at the expense of the academic, of the GPA. How have you, and I know it's not just you, it's a whole swath of coaches. How have you accomplished that? Not compromising on the academics and the GPA?

while also thriving or is it not, maybe it is not an either or, right? In the one or the other. Because how have you accomplished that?

Joe Patterson (23:16.626)
I think that certainly critical mass is important, right? If the critical mass is striving to do well, it's a lot easier to bring the rest along, right? So I think that my background is as a teacher. I taught literature for 19 years before I took the position here. So academics was very sort of integral to everything that I had done.

And so it was natural to say, let's do them both, right? And too often you hear from the athletic world, well, you gotta do the athletics, I'm sorry, you gotta do the academics so that you can do athletics. But that's sort of a bad way of looking at it, right? Academics is not a means to an end of playing athletics, right? Academics are superior, right, to a lot of other pursuits, right? And it's so...

the idea that academics are in and of themselves a good that we are going to pursue. Right. And that's where athletics helps because we want to win. We want to win. Right. And I'm not talking simply about the scoreboard. I'm talking about winning in life. Right. Most wins are simple choices. Right. Winning on the scoreboard. That's not a choice. Right. A lot of things can go into that weather.

bad coaches, bad calls, right? A lot of things can go into winning and losing a game, but the vast majority of wins and losses are simply choices, right? I'm gonna choose to go to class. I'm gonna choose to study until I know it, right? I'm gonna choose to support my teammate in that endeavor and not distract them. So I think academic pursuits are so natural to athletic pursuits because what works in the athletic world,

works in the academic world.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (25:15.83)
Yeah, they're not mutually exclusive. And I love that you approach it that way. As a former literature teacher, that also makes me really happy because I can see, you know, why do I read St. Augustine? Like, I have a game to play, right? And both really, really important. And there are so many lessons that you read in books and then you can apply them on the field. Kind of this, I always look at it as, you know, the virtue in action, right? We talk a lot about virtues, right? In books...

But then you can also apply some of the things that you learn on the field without much thinking about it. Right. I mean, a lot of that is kind of the immediate decision making that is guided by a moral principle. Are those some of your proudest moments maybe, when you see like, wow, my players are, they're applying kind of what they're learning in the classroom and you can see it in action on the field?

Joe Patterson (26:09.854)
For sure. I think that the real benefit of athletics, the real benefit of academics, isn't seen in the present a lot of times, right? Like, just going back to what you said about reading books and reading Augustine, and like I'm 25 years removed from college now. I don't remember a lot of what I learned, but I remember learning how to think and learning how to reason,

and learning how to convince, and learning how to be properly persuaded. Same with athletics, right? Like 25 years from now, these individual drills that you're doing are not going to be applicable, but the lessons that have been learned, right? The approach, the mindset, right? Things that allow you to be a college athlete are going to allow you to be an outstanding member of society, right?

As long as you're learning the right lessons. And that's where we keep coming back to it. It's like, we're learning lessons all the time, right? And it just has to be the right lessons.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:16.794)
Fantastic. Well, as a fellow lover of literature, this next question either got you really excited or may seem impossible because I'm going to ask you the same question we ask all of our Anchored Podcast guests. If there is one book or one text that you can point to that is probably most impactful in your life, what book would it be and why?

Joe Patterson (27:44.054)
Okay, so I read a lot over my life and one of the things is, regretfully, I don't have a chance to read too many books cover to cover. But I would say as I stand here or sit here now thinking about it, there's a devotional book called My Daily Bread brought forth by the confraternity of the precious blood.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:47.118)
Ha ha ha!

Joe Patterson (28:10.614)
I don't know, it might be 50, 60, 70 years old. I'm not sure, but it has some devotions in there that just strike you to the heart every day. And I love the format of it. It's called My Daily Bread. I give it out to my coaches. For Lent, I'll be giving it out to my football team. I just find that to be a tremendous book.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (28:32.558)
Fantastic. Well, Joe, this was delightful. I could go on and on talking about athletics. I'm gonna ask you one more quick question. Interestingly, we're recording here in January. It's probably the episode, it's probably not gonna go live until February or later, so post Super Bowl. So get on the record who's gonna win the Super Bowl, and then we can see if it came true or not.

Joe Patterson (28:59.476)
I will actually decline to answer that question. I'm a Washington fan and have always been a Washington fan. And if they're not in the running, I don't want to say I don't care, but I really don't pay as much attention.

Soren Schwab (CLT) (29:13.85)
Gotcha, gotcha. Well, I'm an Eagles fan, so painful. So I'm gonna go with, well, we're our headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland. So I guess we're gonna root for the Ravens. So we'll see. But...

Joe Patterson (29:27.298)
Okay, if you're gonna if you're gonna declare someone else, I'll go ahead I'll go with the Packers

Soren Schwab (CLT) (29:32.283)
All right. All right. All right. Well, that's going to make one of my colleagues really happy. So I appreciate that. Joe, this was absolutely delightful. Again, we're here with Joe Patterson, the vice president for enrollment, the director of athletics and the head football coach at Aby Maria University in Florida. Joe, thank you so much for joining us today.

Joe Patterson (29:52.633)
Thank you so much.