May 4, 1999
As the Notre Dame men’s tennis team prepares for its ninth-consecutive appearance in the NCAA team championship beginning May 15-16, senior Brian Patterson will be wrapping up a career at Notre Dame that has had as a great an impact off the court as his performances on the court.
It’s not as if the 1998-99 co-captain has made insignificant tennis contributions. He arrived at Notre Dame in the fall of 1995 as a top-10 player in the United States Tennis Association boys’ national 18-and-under rankings. He will leave Notre Dame as the only player under 12th-year head coach Bob Bayliss to win at least 80 singles and 80 doubles matches in a career, a feat not accomplished by such players as former No. 1 player David DiLucia or members of the 1992 NCAA championship runner-up team.
Patterson has made two appearances in the NCAA doubles championship in his career, having been ranked as high as fifth in the country in doubles. Over the last two years, Patterson has built a 36-5 dual-match singles record, including a 16-2 mark in 1999 at No. 2 singles. He enters his fourth consecutive and final appearance in the NCAA team championship riding a 12-match winning streak with a 12-0 record in 1999 against Midwest opponents.
“To have a player who has been virtually a lock to win in our matches is obviously a tremendous asset to a team,” says Bayliss. “But to have that same player also be the hardest worker is incredible. He makes the other players emulate that effort and makes everyone around him better. His doubles partner, Ryan Sachire, had never played No. 1 doubles before this year but Brian has done a great job of showing him how to handle the difference of playing at No. 1.”
“It took me a while to get acclimated to college but since my sophomore year, I’ve started to learn a lot more from Coach Bayliss,” says Patterson. “Since I have taken in what he has said, I’ve improved on and off the court.”
While Patterson has been impressive on the court, his actions off the court have been so commendable that he was the first men’s tennis player to receive the Frances Patrick O’Connor Award. The annual award is presented to one female and one male senior student-athlete who best display the total embodiment of the true spirit of Notre Dame as exemplified by their contributions and inspiration to their teams.
Patterson has been active in a number of Notre Dame’s Like Skills Programs. He has visited children at South Bend Center for the Homeless and helped found the Notre Dame Family program, which coordinates Irish student-athlete appearances at local hospitals, visiting children in oncology and hematology wards.
“Brian’s involvement and leadership is something special indeed, but his ability to get others involved is exemplary,” says Notre Dame Like Skills Programs assistant coordinator Jimmy Barret. “Even outside of the tennis team, Brian has spurred an awareness among other Notre Dame teams about the importance of our programs.”
“Being involved with various Life Skills activities has been one of the best parts about my Notre Dame experience,” says Patterson. “Starting the Notre Dame Family program has been very rewarding, and we’re trying to give back to families that don’t have what we have.”
In addition to his work with children, Patterson has developed a particularly close relationship with South Bend resident and long-time Notre Dame tennis fan Dick Bowman. Bowman and his wife, Yvonne, have been regulars at Irish tennis matches over the years and even have attended road matches as far away as Alabama to watch Notre Dame.
During Patterson’s time at Notre Dame, Bowman was stricken with a highly virulent strain of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His motor skills have since deteriorated but his devotion to Notre Dame tennis remains unwavering. Although the disease has progressed to the point where he is no longer able to eat or speak, Bowman, affectionately referred to as “Mr. B” by the players, regularly attends practice in addition to his support at all of the home matches.
The tennis team’s support for Bowman and appreciation of his support has become stronger lately, thanks to the compassionate efforts of Patterson. He visits Bowman at home and has made it a point to include Bowman in the team’s activities. When the team honored Bowman last year on Jan. 24, in a match against DePaul, it was Patterson who had written a poem entitled Our Inspiration as a tribute to Bowman. It was placed on the plaque with a picture of Bowman and the team.
“Brian has worked really hard to make Dick feel comfortable and has gotten the rest of the team involved now,” says Bayliss. “Dick Bowman has become a part of our lives.”
“Mr. B is such an inspiration for everyone,” says Patterson, who will try the professional tennis tour this summer before attending law school. “Despite everything he’s going through, he’s always happy and concerned about how we’re doing. He’s slowly becoming weaker but it seems like he’s getting stronger. He’s a great friend.”