Alumni Spotlight: Gary Pate

By: Tiffany Boatright, Donnie Taylor, and Jonathan Collins
September 30, 2005

Prior to the 2005 Homecoming Game at 6:30 p.m., Locust Fork High School will be dedicating the football field to one of the school’s greatest coaches, Coach Gary Pate. The official name will be Gary Pate Field at Hornet Stadium. Coach Pate was the Hornet’s head football coach from 1973 to 1979 and an assistant football coach from 1984 to 1986. In addition, he coached baseball and junior high basketball. He then returned as the head coach for the 1991 and 1992 seasons. He became the assistant principal after that year and would retire from education in 1995.

Coach Pate started his coaching career at Leeds High School in 1966, where he attended high school. At Leeds, he coached b-team football, basketball, and varsity baseball for three years. After leaving Leeds, he coached at Oak Grove High School for a year and then at Odenville High School for two years.

Coach Pate joined the Locust Fork faculty in 1974. For the next seven years Locust Fork would enjoy some of its best football teams in school history. As a head coach at Locust Fork in both the 1970s and 1990s, he had an overall record of 60-37-1. He had five winning seasons and won seven or more games in a season five times.

When Coach Pate arrived, the facilities were a mess. An old John Deer lawn mower cut the field. When it died, two push mowers replaced it. He had to enlist the help of his P.E. students to cut the field. The bleachers were also in disrepair. He said he even fell through the wooden bleachers on the visitors’ side. In addition, the home side’s concrete bleachers were damaged. Coach Pate led the movement to reconstruct the stadium and the bleachers would be repaired and replaced. Also, when he first became coach there was no field house. Later, the concession stand was expanded to make a field house at the corner of the football field.

His most memorable season was in 1975, when the Hornets won nine games. That season he squared off against Susan Moore’s head coach, Larry “Pod” Patterson, and won the game 14-0.

Also, that year he started the Locust Fork Track Team. He kept the baseball team in shape by having them run track. One of his favorite “Pate-isms” was calling players “goat” when they messed up. This earned himself the nickname, “Goat”.

Terry Benton, President of the Class of 1975, said, “Coach Pate's leadership and knowledge of the game, brought success and respect back into the Hornet program.” He remembers his senior year when Locust Fork went 9-1 in the regular season and into the second round of the state play-offs. This was the first time in school history that Locust Fork participated in the Alabama high school state playoffs. He notes, “This was done with a small group of assistant coaches and before the technical aids we see today.”

Coach Pate left Locust Fork in 1980. When he returned in 1984, he was the assistant coach to Jeff Dean. When asked why he left Locust Fork the first time and then came back for good, he responded, “I should have stayed 25 years but I got tired and aggravated.” He said he only got into education to be a coach. Although he did not want to teach, he would become one of the students’ favorite teacher and assistant principal.

One of Coach Pate’s assistant coaches, Jerry Faulkner said, “Coach Pate was the best football coach Locust Fork has ever had.” He believes Coach Pate was an “old school” coach in the way that he was thoroughly prepared for every game. Coach Pate made sure he knew everything about the other team and made sure the players understood it as well. He was never surprised by another team’s plays.

What really stood out to Coach Faulkner was the way he handled the kids. He said that he was always fair and treated everyone equally. He always cared for the students and would go out of his way to help others. He never let his pride get in the way of participating in school events which would benefit the students. In 1986, Locust Fork had its First Annual Lip Sync. Several of the faculty members did a rendition of “We Are the World.” Mr. Faulker, who was Mr. Stevie Wonder, said Coach Pate did the best Michael Jackson impersonation he saw.

When he was given the assistant principal job in 1989 there was much controversy. Following a law suit, Coach Pate was asked to step down. On the day that he was replaced, the students walked out and sat on the road. Approximately 300 students protested that day out of love for Coach Pate. One of the teachers now, Mr. Morgan, was a senior that year and told the whole story. He said on the previous day they all talked in the lunchroom and decided that the students should have a say in the matter. Therefore, they decided to protest. With local television stations covering the incident, the students refused to return to class even after being ordered in by the Superintendent of Education. After a while Coach Pate came out and talked to them. He said that sometimes in life there are things you have to do, and in a rare show of emotion he told the students that he loved them and to go back to class. This diffused the situation and the students calmly came back into the school. A few years later, he would again be given the job as the assistant principal and stayed at Locust Fork until 1995.

Everyone who was every associated with Coach Pate has a story to tell. One of Mr. Morgan’s most memorable things about Coach Pate was that he always carried a paddle in one pocket and a pouch of Red Man in the other. Another teacher who was a student at the time, Mr. Taylor, witnessed on several occasions Coach Pate running extremely long distances such as from Locust Fork to Tarrant City.

Coach Pate was always in superb shape. He would run marathons and bicycle long distances. Mary Matthews’ daughter, Bridget, would often ride with Pate. They regularly rode to Blowgord or Oneonta from Locust Fork and back. One day Coach Pate called to see if Bridget wanted to go for a ride but she told her Mom to tell him she was sick. She said, “Momma, I just can’t keep up with him.”

Mrs. Waid, who taught with Coach Pate, remembers when her daughter, Whitney, started Kindergarten and cried everyday for weeks because she didn’t want to be away from her mother. Coach Pate told Mrs. Waid to send her to him the next time she cried and he would make her stop by paddling her. Mrs. Waid said ok. So, the next time Whitney cried she was sent to the office but Pate could not bring himself to paddle her because she was too small. Afterwards, Mrs. Waid told him that he said he was going to paddle her and that is just what he needed to do. So when Whitney started crying the next day, she went to Coach Pate’s office again. This time he gave her tap with the paddle, which got Whitney’s attention, and she never cried again. Mrs. Waid said, “It just shows that he was really a softy.”

Mrs. Douglas, the librarian, remembers the first year she came to Locust Fork she had a new desk that had not been put together. The pieces were just lying around on the library floor. She asked the Ag. teacher if he would put it together for her and he said that he was not supposed to do things like that. Later that day, Coach Pate came in the library, took some tools out of his pocket, and put the desk together for her. She said she had never even asked him and that she had never talked to him before that. After that day, she said he became her buddy and was one of her favorite people to work with.

Coach Pate was always looking for a laugh and pulling practical jokes. One day he put a sign on the back of Mr. Vinson, Locust Fork’s principal, while he was walking down the hall that said, “Wide Load.” When someone told Mr. Vinson about the sign, he was furious. He never would find out that Pate was the one who put it there.

Aside from coaching, he has had a fulfilled life. He married Charlotte Ingram, and had two daughters. Both of his daughters attended Locust Fork. Robin graduated in 1982 and Angie graduated in 1986. Since retiring, Coach Pate enjoys many hobbies such as Golf and Hunting. Two years ago, he killed a 15 point deer.

The Class of 1975, who are having their 30 year reunion, led the movement to have the field named after Coach Gary Pate. “Coach Pate's dedication to the community, school and team was an important part in many of the improvements made to the athletic facilities and Locust Fork High School. The influence Coach Pate had on the lives of young men and women can be seen throughout our community to this day,” remarks Terry Benton. He also would like to thank all those who made this dedication possible especially Mr. James Carr, Blount County Superintendant of Education; Mr. Daniel Smith, Principal of Locust Fork High School; Jeff Hallmark, President of the Athletic Booster Club; and the community of Locust Fork, Alabama. When told the field would be dedicated to him Coach Pate responded in disbelief, “It is a big honor, and I did not dream that they would even think of dedicating the field to me. There are so many other coaches that are worthy.”