It’s 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, and Patti Hower is at one of her favorite places on earth, her tiny office adjacent to the Lebanon Catholic gymnasium.
Her grandchildren hover nearby, looking for the chance to greet Lebanon Catholic’s legendary girls basketball coach and perhaps engage in a little mischief, while Hower awaits the arrival of her 42nd girls basketball team for an after-school practice.
Technically, this is her place of employment, where she’s spent the last 42 years as a gym teacher and coach, but it has always felt more like home to Hower.
The grass may be greener, or not, somewhere else, but Hower has never been inclined to find out, instead content to build a small school girls basketball power with a big reputation for excellence on Assumption Hill along with her family, both blood relatives like her dad Ed Werth, who passed away over the summer, her daughter and former star player, Becky Hower Kleinfelter, and Mike Mohl, her best friend with whom she has shared the bench and a family-like bond with for her entire 42-year tenure.
Her husband Lonnie is often nearby, too, keeping the clock or the score book at home games, and occasionally dispensing hoops advice that his wife may or may not follow.
It is a special place to Hower, and not just only because of the special things she and her teams, which include three state championship squads and a staggering 20 District 3 1A titleholders, have accomplished there.
“I’m lucky, because my family has been a big part of this,” Hower said. “I understand why coaches say, ‘Hey, I want to spend more time with my family.’ But my family is here. Like my granddaughters will be flying in here soon, they’re at every practice. And I have a very understanding husband. He kept the clock last night, and he’s scouting for me tomorrow.”
“But,” she adds with a laugh, “he can’t tell me what to do.”
Nor should he, or anyone else, for that matter. Hower’s done just fine with the coaching thing, standing at an incredible 747 career head coaching victories after Wednesday night’s win over Lititz Christian. It’s not something she thinks about much or is inclined to get too excited about, seeing it as more of a tribute to her longevity than her coaching acumen.
Truth be told, it’s both. Yes, she’s been around a long time and anyone wishing to challenge her victory total someday had better be prepared to coach for four-plus decades (not likely), but Hower is being too modest when she dismisses her victory total. The woman can flat-out coach and has been successful with both super-talented teams and squads with more ordinary skills. Because, well, she knows what she’s doing.
“I haven’t thought about it much, but I would be more happy because it’s three more wins, for us,” Hower said of approaching career win No. 750. “If you coach as long as I have you’re gonna have a lot of wins. I don’t know, I guess I’ll look back someday and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good.’ But right now I’m more focused on what we’re doing this year.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stuck with it this long, and my assistant coach, Mike Mohl, has stuck with it this long,” Hower said. “I think that says a lot about why our program has been so successful, we’ve had that continuity.”
And, Hower, is quick to point out, good kids to coach. Yes, some have been extremely talented, but the fact that they’ve been so enjoyable to coach has meant more to Hower than anything else.
“We’ve always had good kids that are good to be around, and you feel like it’s worth your time,” she said.”That’s why I stick with it. And I guess I’d probably be bored. I think we have a unique type of student-athlete and they’ve always believed in me and my assistant coaches. That certainly made it a lot easier.”
In addition to creeping up on 750 career wins, Hower is also just 17 wins away from former Lancaster Catholic coach Lamar Kauffman’s all-time Lancaster-Lebanon League record of 764 victories. With Lebanon Catholic off to a 3-0 start this season, Hower could catch Kauffman this season, although early in the 2020-21 campaign seems more likely. Either way, Hower admits it’s a record she wouldn’t mind having for herself.
“I love Lamar, he’s a good friend, but I think that’s a record that would be neat to hold,” she said. “Maybe not ever be broken, because they don’t stick around as long anymore. Him and I were in it a long time. I didn’t really realize it, but I think that’s something I would be very proud of.”
Hower is even more proud that all those wins have come at the same school. And because of that family atmosphere she enjoys at Lebanon Catholic, there has never been a temptation to take her talents elsewhere.
“I like it here,” she said, simply. “I like our students, I like the way our school is run. They don’t try to micro manage me from the top. I enjoy it. I’ll be retiring from here, hopefully soon.”
She adds a chuckle to that last statement, because while retirement may come soon it is not imminent. Hower still loves what she does, who she does it with and where she does it.
“It’s just a nice place to be,” she said.