By Josh Dolmage
The consequences of drinking and driving will be very clear this weekend.
Stewart Field House will host the women’s basketball tournament this weekend. However, as the Lady Builders exit the locker room, winning will not be the only thing on their mind.
The Lady Builder team, coaching staff and fans will all have heavy hearts as the seventh annual Tara Patterson Memorial Coca-Cola Classic will kick off.
Tara Patterson graduated from Southwestern in 2002, transferring here after playing at Pratt Community College. Patterson was an honorable mention All-Conference selection her senior year. After graduating from Southwestern, Patterson became an assistant women’s basketball coach at Cowley County College.
In October of 2002, Patterson made a decision that took her life.
“She was part of a tragic one vehicle accident. She was heading back to Cowley County College from Winfield and took highway 77. She was going around a curve and jumped over the curb. After jumping the curb, she hit a tree. Unfortunately, alcohol was involved in the accident,” said Dave Denly, women’s head basketball coach. “The tournament is to keep her memory alive.”
Denly took that year’s team to Dallas for Tara’s funeral. “I spoke at the funeral and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” said Denly. “I go to the site of the accident at least once a year.”
“He has always been close with his point guards because they are like an extension of him since he used to be a point guard,” said Jack McNickle, assistant women’s basketball coach.
Faculties at Southwestern were also affected by Patterson’s sudden death.
Barbara Kaiser, accounts payable, works in the business office. A well-known SC basketball fan, Kaiser rarely misses a game and often travels to the road games for both the Builder and Lady Builder teams. “I go every year to the tournament,” said Kaiser. “I remember Tara as being fun, athletic and always happy. She was a good kid and was very friendly. She was also a key contributor to the team when she played.”
Kaiser said the tournament helps the team and community to better understand the problems with drinking and driving. “I think that the tournament is to have the team play in Tara’s honor while reminding people of the problems of drinking and driving,” said Kaiser.
“Tara was very competitive, tough, and worked hard to excel. She always wanted the ball in her hands at the end of the game. I remember her being very personable, outgoing, feisty and highly respected,” said McNickle. “The coaching community was devastated by her death. It was hard for everyone to wrap their arms around. I know it hit Denly pretty hard and rekindles his memories every year at the tournament. He used to take each year’s team out to the site on the anniversary and explain to them what happened. It is sort of a warning lesson to them.”
“She was a hard worker and the ideal team player,” said Denly. “If I had to explain her in one word, that word would be, dynamic.”
Friends University, Hillsdale Freewill Baptist and the University of Science and Arts will be joining Southwestern in this year’s tournament.
The tournament will tip off Friday at 5 p.m. with Friends University playing the University of Science and Arts. Southwestern will take on Hillsdale Freewill Baptist afterwards.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Hillsdale will battle Friends and Southwestern will go up against the University of Science and Arts after.
Josh Dolmage is a junior majoring in communication. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.