By Irv Moss, The Denver Post
When it came to the sport of wrestling, J. Allen “Pat” Patten didn’t have limitations. While his wrestling program at Boulder High School and the participating athletes are closest to his heart, he took a worldly approach to developing wrestling and its audiences.
Patten looks back with pride and joy to the inaugural Junior World Wrestling Championships at the University of Colorado in 1969. The event is a high point because he organized, promoted and ran the tournament, which featured teams from Russia, Japan, Bulgaria and the United States. He had to travel the world to gain participation commitments from national sports organizations because many had little time or money to spend on junior programs back then. “It wasn’t easy,” he recalled, “but it was worth the effort. I know it helped develop wrestling in Colorado.”
Patten also initiated an exchange program with Japan, a top contender in international wrestling at the time. A high school-aged team from Japan would tour Colorado, or sometimes the Rocky Mountain area, in January and February. Matches at various high schools usually used international rules, providing a style of wrestling new to most local wrestlers. A team from Colorado, and sometimes other Rocky Mountain states, toured Japan in early summer.
Patten had a rough beginning as a ward of the state after both parents died before he was a teenager. He turned to wrestling at Gove Junior H. S. in Denver and continued in the sport through Manual H, S. and the University of Colorado, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering.. “I only weighed 88 pounds when I went to high school,” Patten said, (but) “I became a pretty good competitor and was able to win a couple of Rocky Mountain AAU titles. Competing collegiately in cross-country, track and field and wrestling, he earned seven letters. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into CU’s Sports Hall of Fame in the third class (2000).
“When I got into coaching, wrestling became a very big part of life…a driving factor,” said the highly regarded mentor, who was a wrestling judge and referee at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. “You want people to become better than they were when they started. It was a great pleasure for me to see the athletes develop ….. I didn’t try to teach them fancy stuff. I stayed with the basics and it paid off.” One of his wrestlers, Jim Burke, made the U. S. Olympic Team. Another, Bill Lam, became an All-America at Oklahoma and long-time University of North Carolina wrestling coach.
Patten coached wrestling for 17 years at Boulder H. S., but he was part of the school’s faculty for 36 years, teaching chemistry, other physical sciences and algebra with his same “basics” approach.. When his sons, Scott and Steve, were about to enter the high school program, he gave up coaching and became an assistant principal, then athletic director.
Patten lived in Boulder with fond memories.. “The best thing that happens to me is hearing from my wrestlers and students,” he said. “It’s great to hear them say that they want me to know how much they gained from the experience they had at Boulder High. I demanded excellence whenever I could. You sometimes have to guide people to reach their potential and at times it isn’t the happiest experience for them. But what are you doing in this life if you can’t help somebody else achieve success?”
For his unwavering dedication, Patten received a Lifetime Service in Wrestling award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, OK.
Patten passed away the year after being inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. He was 86.
When I got into coaching, wrestling became a very bit part of life…a driving factor.