In their 36 years at Alabama, Sarah and David Patterson have built a program that has excelled and thrived at the highest levels in all areas of the collegiate experience, leading the Crimson Tide to championship performances in the gym and the classroom while making a difference in the community around them.
"Our philosophy has always been that if you develop the whole person, not just the gymnast, that the scores will take care of themselves," Sarah Patterson said. "We look for those that want to excel in everything they do, who want to be part of a family environment and who want to be involved in community - to us, that's what it means to be `Built by Bama.' I think that philosophy is why Alabama gymnastics has been so successful over the years."
That success reached a fevered pitch over the past three seasons as Alabama reached new heights. In 2012, Alabama won its second NCAA championship in a row, marking the first time the Crimson Tide gymnastics program has won back-to-back national titles. Over that two-year span, 10 gymnasts earned 29 All-America honors, Geralen Stack-Eaton earned back-to-back individual national titles and Kayla Hoffman received the 2011 Honda Award, Southeastern Conference Female Athlete of the Year and NCAA Top VIII honors.
The Tide has been just as successful in the classroom over the past two years, with 18 gymnasts earning 27 Scholastic All-America honors, including a school-record 14 in 2011. Rachel Terry became the first gymnast to earn the NCAA's Elite 89 Award in back-to-back seasons with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. As a team, Alabama posted lofty GPAs during both championship runs, including a school-record 3.71 GPA in 2011. On a conference level, Hoffman and Kim Jacob were voted SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the league's coaches in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Tide gymnasts also earned a place on the SEC Academic Honor Roll 34 times, a total that includes a school and SEC-record 17 honorees in 2012.
In the midst of all their athletic and academic success, the Tide maintained an active presence in the community, spending hour upon hour of their free time lending a helping hand to those in need, including such outreach projects as the Power of Pink and ReadBAMARead, plus working to help the West Alabama community recover from the April 2011 tornado that cut a swath through the Tuscaloosa community. The Tide also continued its worth with the Stallings RISE Center, Project AngelTree, Easter Seals and a host of other causes.
While the past two years have been extraordinary, that kind of excellence in all areas is far from new to the Crimson Tide under the Pattersons, who have built a program that has remained a constant among the nation's elite for more than 30 years. That sustained greatness led to the Pattersons becoming the only coaches in collegiate gymnastics history to win NCAA titles in four different decades - with the first coming in the 1980s, followed by two in the 1990s, one in the 2000s and now two in the 2010s.
With six NCAA championships to her credit, Sarah has joined Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most career national championships by a Crimson Tide head coach. In addition to forging Alabama into a football juggernaut, the foundation for the Tide's gymnastics success was also "Built by Bear" after Bryant, in his role as Alabama's athletics director, hired Sarah straight out of Slippery Rock State College in the summer of 1978.
The last coach hired by Bryant, Sarah gives the legendary coach credit for helping launch the Tide to its current level of success.
"I was the fifth coach in five years and there hadn't been a winning record during the first four years," Sarah Patterson said. "I didn't know it at the time, but the plan was to drop the program after the season."
Alabama won seven meets that season, as many as the first four years combined and that caught Bryant's attention.
"Coach Bryant loved a winner," Sarah Patterson said. "So when we had some success that first year, he gave us four scholarships to recruit with and that was our first recruiting class."
The duo promised that class that Alabama would make it to the national championships during their careers. As seniors, that first recruiting class marched into the 1983 NCAA Championships where the Tide finished an amazing fourth in their first national championship appearance.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The Tide has not missed an NCAA Championships appearance since, making it 30 in a row in 2012, the second longest streak in the history of collegiate gymnastics.
During that 30-year span, Alabama became one of just four teams in collegiate gymnastics history to win an NCAA championship. The Tide has also finished in the top six 28 times, including 21 top-three finishes.
In addition to being in their 35th season at Alabama, the Pattersons are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first national and conference championships in 2013. If the Tide's first recruiting class earning a trip to the 1983 national championships built the foundation for Alabama's success, the 1988 SEC and NCAA championship team cemented the Tide's place among the nation's elite programs. It also gave credence to the coaching philosophy that Sarah and David Patterson had utilized since day one of their coaching career.
"That season proved you could have our philosophy and have those priorities and still be successful at the highest level," Sarah Patterson said. "It showed you could coach for a championship, you could instill that academic success was first and foremost, and you could treat your student-athletes as maturing individuals who you want to see become better citizens who will continue to grow after graduation."
Alabama followed the 1988 NCAA crown with national championships in 1991, 1996, 2002, 2011 and 2012. The Tide collected SEC titles in 1988, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2009 and 2011.
Individually, Alabama gymnasts have earned 277 All-America honors and 23 individual NCAA championships. Seven times a member of the Crimson Tide has earned the Honda Award, presented annually to the nation's top gymnast. UA gymnasts have also earned the NCAA Today's Top VIII Award - presented annually to the nation's top-eight senior student-athletes, regardless of gender or NCAA division - four times.
Patterson-coached athletes have earned 22 NCAA and SEC postgraduate scholarships, another figure that is best in the nation, as well as 175 Scholastic All-America and 246 SEC Academic Honor Roll accolades.
While those numbers just scratch the surface of the Pattersons' accomplishments, they do outline a pattern of success that is extraordinary even among the nation's elite collegiate programs. That is one of the reasons that when ESPN began making plans to start a new unit within its sports empire targeted to women, ESPN/W, they asked Sarah to serve on the advisory panel.
It is also why when the University of Alabama decided to create a "Champions Plaza" in front of Coleman Coliseum, its Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name it after Sarah Patterson in recognition of all she and David have accomplished.
Such recognition of their contributions to the landscape of women's athletics over the past 34 years is certainly gratifying, but what Sarah and David Patterson are most proud of is the success their gymnasts enjoy after they leave Alabama. After spending their collegiate careers at the Capstone, Tide gymnasts invariably go on to lead lives of distinction, both professionally and personally.
"Winning championships never grows old," Sarah Patterson said. "And I have thoroughly enjoyed watching our ladies take home conference and national championships and awards, but there is nothing like the sense of satisfaction I get watching our ladies go out into the world and use what they learned at Alabama, both in the classroom and in the gym, to make themselves successful. It is simply the best feeling in the world."
Alabama's all-time roster is filled with highly successful doctors and lawyers, mothers and executives, teachers and engineers and they all share the common thread that they learned the habit of success at Alabama. That fact is probably the single greatest measure of Sarah and David Patterson's three decades of success at Alabama. The Pattersons are also extremely proud of the role their current gymnasts and alumni play in the community.
"I think as David and I have matured, we've placed a greater emphasis in our own lives on community service and how we can help," Sarah Patterson said. "I feel that if we can instill that quality - that characteristic of giving - in our athletes when they are 18 to 22, and they have the sense of accomplishment that working in the community gives, then when they graduate and go out into the world, they will have gained so much from that experience that they will always be giving people. That's something that's very important."
One of the reasons that the Pattersons have been so successful over the years is that the tenets of excellence upon which the Alabama program has been built have been constant from day one.
"The core of what we are today hasn't changed from 20, 30 years ago," Sarah Patterson said. "Now we've gotten a little older and a little wiser, but when you get right down to it we still have the same philosophy, the same goals and the same drive to succeed on all levels that we did at the start."
There have been some changes along the way, including David Patterson's retirement from the University in the fall of 2008, which allowed him to assume the volunteer coaching position. He had surgery after the 2005 season to fuse four vertebrae in his spine to help ease chronic back problems.
"Nothing has really changed as far as the gymnasts are concerned," David Patterson said. "The biggest difference is that now my relationship with our student-athletes begins when they come on campus, instead of on the recruiting trail."
While he isn't on the road recruiting, or spotting in the gym, David Patterson still plans practices as he always has and he is still in the gym every day, watching, teaching and encouraging.
In addition to her coaching duties, Sarah Patterson is the driving force behind the Power of Pink initiative that raises awareness in the fight against breast cancer and has raised more than $1.25 million for the DCH Breast Cancer Fund established by Alabama gymnastics and the DCH Foundation in 2004 to help women in need prevent, detect and treat breast cancer. In 2005 she was also named to the DCH Foundation Board. She also speaks to groups throughout the state of Alabama and she and David are always there to lend a hand with local causes.
She has served in Alabama's athletic administration as Associate Athletics Director since 1985 and was on the SEC Executive Committee, the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Committee and the NCAA Recruiting Committee.
In addition to their extensive Alabama gymnastics family, the Pattersons have two daughters of their own, Jessie and Jordan, both of whom have made their way to the University of Alabama. Jessie has earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Alabama and joined her parents on the UA staff in 2010 when she was named assistant editor of Alabama's Alumni Magazine. She is now a communications specialist in UA's Division of Student Affairs. During her undergraduate days, Jessie worked as a reporter, then sports editor and finally managing editor of The Crimson White, the University of Alabama's student paper.
Jordan joined in the family enterprise when she earned a scholarship to play softball for the Crimson Tide, joining Patrick Murphy's squad in the fall of 2009. Since that time, she and her teammates won Alabama's first NCAA Softball championship in 2012 as well as back-to-back SEC championships.
"After all the years of having Jessie and Jordan in the stands as David and I coached, there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction we get from seeing our daughters enjoy such success at Alabama," Patterson said. "Being able to be there as a family, watching in the rain as Jordan and her teammates won the 2012 World Series is a thrill I will never forget."
And while the Pattersons may spend much of their time outside of work as softball parents, they both have a variety of hobbies and interests that keep them busy.
Sarah, in her scant spare time, is an enthusiastic scrapbooker, a legendary baker of cookies and a big country music fan, filling her iPod with Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney and others.
David has become skilled in woodworking over the past several years, creating ever larger and more intricate projects, graduating to pieces of furniture that are proudly displayed in the Patterson home.
An accomplished fly fisherman, he's caught a fish in all 50 states, after checking Missouri, off his list in May of 2010. In the community, he helped spearhead the "Ride of Love", a one-day, 150-mile bicycle ride through Alabama to raise money for Camp Smile-A-Mile, which caters to children with cancer.
With lives as busy as they have ever been, Sarah and David Patterson find their days filled with family and work and the wide variety of details that intertwine everything together. It is an intricate act of balance to keep everything going at such a high level for such a long time, but it is a balancing act at which they excel and thrive.