Dedicated, hard working, in it for the kids and love of the sport; all words used by past and present Manawa athletes to describe Coach Mitch Patri.
Patri was recently recognized for 30 years of coaching during the wrestling banquet. Though his coaching career did not start at Little Wolf High School, his presence has definitely been known since he joined the staff in 1992. One young man, who chose not to be indentified, commented, “Coach Patri was like a second father to me. Even when my life at home was a mess, he was there for me. He was very influential in making me the man I am today.”
Patri got his first chance at coaching in Altoona, Wisconsin back in 1979. “I got an internship at Altoona School District, and they called me up and asked if I wanted to coach football. I had just finished playing football at Eau Claire, and was not sure I really wanted to, but I took the job.” Patri adds, “I was the biggest fish out of water. I had absolutely no idea what to do as a coach. But the team worked hard and won their first ever conference championship.” He went on to coach wrestling at Altoona as well. “It was my first taste of a wrestling team struggling to find an identity,” remarks Patri. “Most kids on that team were young kids, without any experience.”
His coaching did not end here. Taking his first teaching position at Moose Lake, Minnesota, Patri took over the wrestling program there. “We had a coop team with Barnum. We drove there every day for practice and we practiced in a Grange Hall. Our matches were in an auditorium.” Patri recalls how he enjoyed coaching there, but the wrestling was then discontinued, due to so many students playing hockey. Patri went on to coach football and baseball.
Finally in 1984, Patri made Abbotsford, Wisconsin his home; coaching in the district for eight years. In his final year of coaching there, and first time in his career, Manawa showed up at a tournament that Abbotsford was in. “Being from Manawa, it was hard to coach against them. I did not know the kids, but I knew the coaches.” He adds,” I had a really good team. My team had won, the week before, against the team that was hosting this tournament. We had quite a battle going on!” And he laughs as he adds, “I have always kept my score book. Most coaches don’t keep score, but I do. Three times that day I wrote down Manawa instead of my team. When I got home that day I told my wife, I think I am supposed to be in Manawa. I took that as a sign that maybe it was time to go home.”
In the spring of 1992, when his son Zach was just four years old, Patri and his wife Julie sat down and talked about where they wanted their children to grow up. “I knew one thing for sure, I wanted my children to grow up in the district I was teaching in,” remarks Patri. He and his wife, both graduates of Little Wolf High School, still had family in the area, so they decided to come home. “I called up the school to see if they had any positions available, and they did.” Patri adds, “The day I found out I was coming to Manawa, there were 17 kids at my house. I told those kids they may not understand, but I had a chance to go home.” He gets choked up as he talks about the talented group of kids he had there, and adds “Wrestling is like your own little family.”
Back home again in Manawa, in 1992, Patri recalls some of his memories of past teams, “I think my favorite is our first conference championship that we won in 2007-08. It was the first one in eighteen years. Those kids had a goal. They wanted their picture in the trophy case and they did it!” He went on to say, “In addition being associated with Garrett Lowney would be right up there with the conference title. Not many coaches have the chance to meet and Olympic wrestler. I actually got to know one of the finest young men that Wisconsin can claim as one of its own.”
Patri also shared his worst memory as a coach as well. I had set up a practice/scrimmage with Freedom, “To this day I am not really sure what happened but when I pulled up to our school to pick up the kids, I went in, there were only three kids there; two of them ran out the back door and I came in. I was a crazed lunatic running around the building looking for them. The other kids were hiding; some even went to Waupaca, as they did not want to go. So, I went to the meet with just one wrestler.”
Patri talks about talks about wrestling as a whole. “Its hard work and you have to be dedicated to want to do it. You cannot just kind of want to be a wrestler, you’re either going to do it or not.” He adds, “Nobody works as hard or makes the physical and mental sacrifices that a high school wrestler makes. Putting yourself into one-on-one situations each time you practice or compete helps you to find out exactly what you are made of. It doesn’t matter how much I want them to do well, they have to want it.”
In the words of one former wrestler, “Coach P taught me more than just how to wrestle. He taught me to work hard and to be all that I could be. He taught me about life.” Congratulations Coach Patri. You have truly made a difference in the lives of those you have coached!