Ben Patterson and Tommy Wood were best friends growing up, so it’s no surprise they ended up coaching baseball together.
Wood took over Pontotoc High School’s program in 1972 and asked Patterson a couple of years later to become his pitching coach. The rest is Mississippi high school baseball history.
Patterson, who helped build Pontotoc’s baseball program and led it to two state championships, died Thursday at age 71.
Patterson coached at Pontotoc for 24 years, including as head coach from 1980-98. The Warriors won back-to-back state championships in 1985-86.
He’s one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches with a career record of 474-161. Patterson led Pontotoc to 12 division titles and six North half crowns.
He was a 1966 graduate of Pontotoc, and it’s the only place he ever coached. Wood had the program headed in the right direction when Patterson joined up, and the Warriors won the Class A title – their first state championship – in 1980.
Wood stepped down to pursue a business opportunity and bequeathed the program to Patterson.
“I told Ben, ‘Look, I’m going to step down, and you’re the man I’m recommending. You fit the bill, so you need to be the head coach from here on,’” Wood said.
Pontotoc was a regular championship contender during Patterson’s tenure. He won a Class 3A title in 1985 when the Warriors went 36-3 and defeated Franklin County in the state finals. Wesley Walls, who would later play football in the NFL, hit two home runs in the clinching game.
They won again the next year, again against Franklin County. Getting the Game 3 win on the mound was Neal Roberson, who had a 15-3 record that season.
Pontotoc reached the state finals four other times on Patterson’s watch.
“I just couldn’t imagine a place being more fun to play high school baseball growing up than in Pontotoc, Mississippi, from 1974 when he started coaching there until 1998 when he got out,” said Ben Ashley, who graduated in 1994 and part of the 1993 team that won North half.
Ashley said Patterson was adored by his players partly because he let them be themselves.
“That was kind of ahead of its time,” said Ashley, now a football assistant coach at Lafayette. “I’m not saying he didn’t have discipline, because he did. You had to act right and do right. But he really just let you be yourself.
“He coached a lot of personalities, but he made it work.”
Josh Dowdy, Pontotoc’s current baseball coach, graduated in 1998 – Patterson’s final season. He recalled being inserted into a varsity game as an eighth grader, which was in keeping with Patterson’s philosophy that players learn best by getting on the field.
“I can remember one of his favorite sayings to us: ‘Hey, when you get your chance, get in there and don’t choke,’” Dowdy said.
Patterson also sought advice from his father-in-law, former Major League pitcher Guy Bush. Patterson was a baseball guy through and through, and Dowdy was glad when his former coach spoke to the team in January.
“It was good for our kids to get to meet him,” Dowdy said, “because he is Pontotoc baseball.”
Patterson is survived by his wife, Gail, and his four sons – Brandon, Adam, Scotty and Tyler. Adam is the head softball coach at South Pontotoc and was named the Daily Journal Coach of the Year in 2019.
Funeral arrangements are not complete at this time.