Athletes praise Vavra’s dedication

Coach Vavra helps clean up after a event on April 4, during the MSSU Invitational. Vavra starting coaching at Southern in 1993.

Coach Vavra helps clean up after a event on April 4, during the MSSU Invitational. Vavra starting coaching at Southern in 1993.

Hallie Hocker

Patty Vavra rises out of bed every morning and ties her shoes the same way everyone else does. The only difference is she laces her green Asics at 4:50 a.m. to prepare for early morning practice as women’s head track and field and cross country coach at Missouri Southern.

It also helps that the reason she rises before the sun is to coach a winning team…a team that looks to take the triple crown in track and field and cross country this year.

Recently, Vavra was named the MIAA Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year, after having already been given the title of MIAA Cross Country Coach of the Year in the fall of 2007.

“First of all, it’s a great reflection of the success this group of athletes has had in the cross country season and then followed up with in the indoor season,” Vavra said.

“Also, I have to give credit to the outstanding assistant coaches we have here: Jamie Burnham, Jamie Tallman and Kyle Rutledge. They’re the ones who get very little of the credit and an awful lot of the credit is due to them.”

She also praised the fact her athletes’ have a great attitude and work ethic.

“This group has made history in several different ways,” Vavra said.

The team has won back to back championships in cross country (2006,2007), won the south regional in cross country (which is only the second time one of Southern’s cross country teams has made it to nationals), and placed higher at that national meet than any other previous Southern team.

“To follow that up in the indoor season with only the second indoor conference championship ever, and to win the two back to back in the same school year, is history here at Missouri Southern,” Vavra said. “With that, it’s a go for that triple crown.

“I haven’t ever been in a position to consider that.”

Not only is the current team the largest in Southern’s history (with 39 women), it is also one of the most close-knit groups Vavra has seen.

She also said it’s one of the most easy and fun groups to coach she’s ever had.

“It’s a good indicator when you take 40 women to Florida for a week and never have a spat,” she laughed.

She also said the group of women she has possess great character and exemplify the complete student-athlete role.

“There’s great diversity, but there’s also great respect for each other,” Vavra said.

“Especially with track and field because there’s so many different events and groups, it’s hard to have the camaraderie and respect.”

She says her team has done an excellent job this year.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a great group of young ladies who are committed to the sport enough to overachieve beyond what we expected in the recruiting process,” Vavra said.

She pointed out the fact that track and field is a team sport and they can’t win team titles with only a few individuals that do great.

“It takes long hard hours with sometimes no return for a few years,” she said.

“It also requires individuals who are willing to persevere and are disciplined and determined enough to continue to work toward their potential.”

When some of her athletes are starting to get burnt out, Vavra is there walking alongside them and encouraging them. Junior Stacy Borgard is one such athlete.

“She’s always there to encourage you when you get down on tough days,” Borgard said.

“Personally, I have her to thank for encouraging me not to quit but to stick it out. Last year I was going to quit but she saw my potential and then she helped me see it. And I’ve gotten better in more than one area this year.”

Vavra said she has a great passion for the team and coaching.

“I love the sport of track and field and cross country,” Vavra said.

She has experienced a “great fulfillment in serving” while being a teacher and a coach.

“I believe teaching and coaching is a service job,” she said.

She believes one has to see value in one’s student or athlete and help them reach their potential.

“I enjoy my relationship with the athletes the most,” Vavra said.

“Seeing what they can accomplish-that’s the fun part of it.”

Vavra cares about how her athletes develop on the field and off. Her number one priority is that every one of her athletes leaves Southern with a degree.

“Another thing that is valuable to me is gaining lifelong friendships with them,” Vavra said.

“Hopefully, they’ll leave with the same passion for the sport that I left Missouri Southern with [as a student] and hopefully they’ve had some fun experiences at the same time.”

Vavra started her track career two years prior to Title IX.

“I was fortunate enough to go to Joplin High School, which had a track program,” she said.

Vavra was later recruited by Sallie Beard to come to Southern on a basketball scholarship.

“I told her I wanted to run track as well and she started the program my freshman year,” Vavra said.

She said Beard has been an excellent role model and mentor for her.

“She created and was the first coach of nearly every women’s sport here,” Vavra said.

After graduation, Vavra coached tennis, basketball, volleyball, track and men and women’s cross country in Carthage.

It was after 14 years there that she got a call from Sallie Beard, who was now the athletic director at Missouri Southern, to come back to Southern to coach track and field and cross country.

In 1993, Vavra took her place in Southern’s Hall of Fame for her outstanding athletic performances as a Lion.

She was a Lion and she is still a Lion at heart. She is very glad to be coaching at Southern.

“She’s a great person to be around,” said Jamie Burnham, assistant women’s track and field and cross country coach.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity to be able to work with her. It’s been fun.”

Apparently Vavra is a big fan of fun.

“She’s very sarcastic but has a very good sense of humor,” said senior throwe Jessica Selby-Tallman.

“She’s one of those people you can be in a car with for 10 hours and keep talking and having interesting conversation.”

Recently, after one of these 10-hour-plus trips, this one to Florida over spring break for a meet, Vavra took the team to the beach for some fun and a few drills.

All-American thrower Selby-Tallman said Vavra is always ready for a good time.

“The longer I know Coach Vavra, the more I like her,” Selby-Tallman said.

“She really is the reason I’m competing now. If she wouldn’t have been so persistent to get me on the team, I wouldn’t have been All-American or married, because I wouldn’t have met (Assistant Coach) Jamie Tallman. She’s played a very important role in my life.”

Borgard said Coach Vavra is like the team’s mother.

“We’re well fed on road trips,” Borgard said.

“She’s always asking about school and always making sure we’re keeping up in school and keeping our grades up. She makes sure we’re healthy.”

Borgard said she believes Vavra would do just about anything she could to help them.

“I know she works very hard at what she does everyday,” Borgard said.

“She’s very dedicated to her work.”

And in fond imitation of one of her coach’s favorite sayings, Borgard said with a big grin, “We ‘ppreciate ya, Coach. We ‘ppreciate ya.”