Faith Johnson Patterson is one of the greatest coaches in Minnesota prep history. She’s a member of the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. She won three state titles with two different schools and eight overall.
She isn’t coaching these days, choosing to live her “best life” in the corporate world. That her best life couldn’t be found on a sideline is an indictment of high school sports and society.
“My experience at Eden Prairie was pretty traumatic,” she said. “It hurt. I’m not saying I was perfect, but they weren’t either. It was a situation that hit me in places I didn’t think possible. I had to tell myself, ‘Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you to move on to something more rewarding for you.’ ”
I spent a week with Johnson Patterson and her Minneapolis North High team in 1998. She was the ideal high school coach — exacting on the court, empathetic off it. Her players loved and performed for her.
After winning big at North, she moved to DeLaSalle and again produced a powerhouse. In 2015, she moved to Eden Prairie, intrigued by the possibility of coaching at a large school with exceptional facilities.
After two losing seasons filled with conflicts with players and parents, Johnson Patterson was asked to resign. She refused, and the school board voted to replace her. She learned the news when a parent showed her a text from the school.
She says the episode caused her to gain weight and lose hair. Renowned and beloved her entire career, she felt betrayed. She moved to Edison High, but after dealing with another round of player and parent drama, she decided to retire from coaching.
Johnson Patterson’s reward for coaching excellence was a $5,000-to-$6,000-a-year coaching stipend and enough stress to make her sick.
“I think things have changed drastically in terms of parent involvement,” she said. “There is a lack of appropriate administering of relationships within high school basketball.”
Johnson Patterson declined to offer specific details about the events at Eden Prairie, preferring to speak to more universal problems.
“It’s difficult if you don’t have the right support system in place,” she said. “What makes it difficult now and unappealing for a coach now in high school is you’re dealing with way too much, and the awareness of what you’re dealing with is just not present. We just don’t have the resources we need, and now you’re getting paid five or six thousand, and does it make sense to put yourself through that? The answer is no. The compensation is not worth the sacrifice you and your family make.”
Now a business development manager with Exact Staff, Johnson Patterson feels supported and trusted, and doesn’t have to rush to practice every afternoon.
Minnesota basketball misses her more than she misses Minnesota basketball, and that’s sad.
“I am extremely disappointed, because it didn’t start off this way,” she said. “I didn’t ever think this would be possible, for me to feel this way.
“Why did it come to this? Quite honestly, because no one took the time to understand what Coach Johnson was going through, and how she feels, and what it was like to be her at that moment.”
More than two years after leaving Eden Prairie, Johnson Patterson found herself fighting tears.
“All that I have put into the game, all the sacrifices, and it comes to this?” she said. “It’s not just one school. My heart was always in the right place, my effort was always there, and the expectations are that you have to be perfect 100 percent of the time, and if you don’t have a support system in place to relieve some of that pressure, you can only handle so much.”
She sighs. “I just got tired,” she said.
She should be coaching. She should be helping kids, and she still might do just that. Johnson Patterson hopes to mentor coaches and start a foundation to help young female athletes.
Faith Johnson Patterson should be doing her best work and living her best life at a Minnesota high school, not in an office park in Woodbury.