To Kyla Patton, her volleyball players at New Athens High School were always an extension of her family.
Patton’s recent decision to resign as varsity volleyball coach after 12 seasons was painful, but will benefit her own family at home, she said.
“All my older son has ever known is me coaching volleyball, but now that my kids are in school, I want to focus on that,” said the 38-year-old Patton, whose New Athens teams were 206-163 including a magical run to the Class 1A state tournament in 2013. “I want to be there for my kids and to be part of all their highlights, just like I was for all the girls.”
Patton said she began thinking about resigning once her oldest son, 12-year-old Connor, began playing school sports last fall as a sixth-grader at Fulton Junior High in O’Fallon. Patton’s husband, Cory Patton, is O’Fallon’s assistant athletic director and freshman health teacher.
“I kind of realized that I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to see (Connor) play or have any opportunities to see him play any junior high sports,” said Kyla Patton, whose younger son is 8-year-old Logan. “That challenge of balancing family and being able to put in all the character traits for my kids ... I wasn’t always able to do that because I was in that sports setting with other kids.
“I just want to be home, and I want to be there for my kids. It’s hard to say it out loud, but I definitely know I made the right decision.”
A high school physical education and junior high health teacher at New Athens, Patton guided the Yellow Jackets to the first volleyball regional championship in school history in 2013. Her squad rode a hot streak to the state tournament, where it finished fourth.
All my older son has ever known is me coaching volleyball, but now that my kids are in school, I want to focus on that. I want to be there for my kids and to be part of all their highlights, just like I was for all the girls.
“It just can’t be described, just to see the girls and how excited they were,” Patton said. “Creating the foundation was fun; every group and every year was special, even this past year. We weren’t expected to be as good, but the girls played so well.
New Athens Athletic Director Josh Wemhoener began his job about the same time as Patton.
“I understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, but she’ll definitely hold a special place here with me,” Wemhoener said.
“I’m going to get quite a few people interested in taking over that position because they know the program is solid and is going to continue to be solid.”
Wemhoener said he will post the job within the district first and knows current assistant coach Molly Works will apply. He said he also plans to open the position outside the district as well.
Every year has been special for different reasons and I’ll never forget any of the years.
Patton had only one winning season in her first seven at New Athens, then closed her career with four straight successful campaigns. New Athens was 28-11 in 2013 with the fourth-place finish at state, 32-6 in 2014 with a trip to the super-sectional, 27-8 in 2015 and 20-18 last fall with another regional title.
“I knew that this would potentially be (the last season),” said Patton, whose team lost a three-set heartbreaker to Norris City in the sectional final. “The way I saw my girls play that last game against Norris City was indescribable. They left every single piece of their heart, body and soul out on the court until the very last point.
“Even though it didn’t go our way, it was the most indescribable feeling to see them fighting like that.”
Patton also helps run the New Athens chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
Wemhoener recalled the electricity generated by New Athens’ first state volleyball trip. The small town backed the ’Jackets in a big way.
“The excitement was so contagious that I thought it helped a lot of our programs,” said Woemhoener, noting New Athens’ state baseball tournament trip in 2014. “Just taking our student body up there to see the state volleyball tournament, they saw why you want to win regional and move forwards in the playoffs.
“It was great to see Kyla get a team there because she did work so hard.”