Every coach should be so lucky as to have the pleasure of coaching a kid like Jason Pate. The biggest reason is because, for most coaches, watching a young athlete improve year by year is one of the most rewarding parts of the profession. But when the coach can actually see that youngster improving on a daily basis then it is really special.
As a former coach of the Comanche Indians that was what I got to see in Jason Pate from early in his sports career.
By the time he had graduated in the spring of 1996 Jason had become a four-sport star for the Comanche Indians. He was blessed with good speed which he would eventually turn into exceptional speed. He had strength because he worked with his Dad, Jimmy, at the family hardware business known as Pate’s Hardware. The real difference maker though was his tireless and relentless work ethic. It was almost as if hard work was addicting to him. I can’t remember him ever begging for mercy in any workout. He was, as many of his track teammates would comment, just a machine.
From the time Jason began his athletic career in junior high he was one of the most focused kids that I had ever coached. He was intense and he had a competitive fire within that was controlled to the point that unless you were a teammate or coach there was no evidence of that. He not only played that way he practiced that way as well.
In junior high Jason struggled somewhat in football and basketball because at age 13 he was wearing a size 13 shoe. So even he will admit that clumsiness was a problem. He overcame that awkwardness in his high school years to become an outstanding athlete in both sports. Running, however, was not a problem. In the eighth grade he never lost a race in his specialty: the 800 meters. So impressive was his performance results and his work ethic that upon his entry into high school his track coach, Gary Speegle, had him tabbed for a spot on the varsity track team.
He did not disappoint as he finished second in district his freshman season and then went on to win three consecutive district championships in the half mile. In his senior season he won the regional 800 meter crown at Ratliff Stadium in Odessa to advance to the state meet in Austin. In Austin, he was edged at the tape and settled for the silver medal. His time of 1:55.20 was a personal best and a CHS record that still stands.
In his junior season the talented Pate led his 4X400 meter relay team to a runner-up finish in Odessa that would send them to the state meet as a quartet. He was joined on the medal stand by teammates, Neil Dudley, Dennis Sanders, and Brian Bruton. Their time of 3:24.20 also remains a CHS record. As the anchor he would usually bring home the baton in a time in the 48 and 49 second range leading to several victories at invitational and district meets.
Following his storied high school career he accepted a scholarship to East Texas State University which was renamed Texas A&M Commerce the summer before his enrollment. That experience turned into a bad one for the young freshman. Things started off wrong for him when the coach that recruited him moved on to another school. The new staff as well as the overall campus culture didn’t fit the dedication of Jason Pate.
He left the Commerce campus and headed back close to home at Tarleton State University where Coach Lonnie McMillan readily welcomed him to the Stephenville campus and the Texan track team. McMillan’s offer to him coming out of high school had not been as attractive as that of A&M Commerce so that was how he had determined his choice of schools. Because his freshman season had not produced any improvement over his high school performances and in fact may have been worse, Coach McMillan could only offer the smallest of scholarship money.
It turned out to be a great investment for TSU as Jason qualified for nationals as a sophomore in the 800 meters. He chuckled a bit as he shared the fact that he was probably the least funded athlete at the national track meet. After finishing in the top six he was rewarded with his first All-American certificate. The following season he once again qualified for nationals in the 800m. This time he took the bronze in a time of 1:49.5 which set a new record for Tarleton State and stood for a number of years before being broken.
Just as in high school he was a member of the 4X400 meter relay team. And just as he had done at Comanche High School, he anchored the national qualifiers all three of his years as a Texan, usually turning in a time in the low 47 second range to his best of 46.9. His performance his junior and senior season would send him home both times with All-American certificates.
When I asked Jason what led to his great success, he quickly told me that he loved to compete. He also shared that he loved the discipline required for his particular events and that he completely enjoyed the camaraderie with his teammates. The success that he has also enjoyed as a businessman, he believes, would not have been nearly as good had it not been for the lessons learned from this very demanding sport in both high school and college.
He said it was never his top priority to return to Comanche once his college education was complete. He also shared that once he made the decision to return home, that he never looked back and has never regretted returning to the family business. His role as Vice-President at Pate’s has no doubt helped the company emerge as a force in the building industry all across the state. My guess is that there aren’t too many Vice-Presidents in that line of work who are more competitive than the former Indian athlete.
He married his wife Niki in 2000 and now the couple has three daughters: Jalee 10, Jaclyn 8, and Jenna 4. When I asked him if he thought any of the girls would take after him and become a runner, he said that it was too early to know. He did say that all the girls have a very competitive side to them and that Jaclyn loves to run probably the most.
The Business Management major has another title besides being Vice-President at Pate’s and that is being president of the board of trustees for Comanche Independent School District. From the standpoint of an educator of 40 years as well having had the opportunity to coach him and watch him perform at a very high level, I can say that it is reassuring having him leading our board for the school district.
Visiting with Jason was not only informative for me but so very enjoyable. He has kept his focus, his intensity, and his competitiveness but most of all he has kept the ability to remain humble even while enjoying athletic and business success. That is what made both coaches and teammates respect, admire, and love about this native of son of Comanche.
What an asset to our community and it is nice to have him home.
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