Unless you are a high school basketball junkie, you likely haven’t heard of Patrick Behan, who was the head coach at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC. Pat is a six-foot-eight former college player at Bucknell University who later played professionally overseas. He eventually turned to coaching and became the head basketball coach at St. John’s in 2017. St. John’s is one of the elite basketball programs in the DC area.
In May 2022, at the age of 34, Pat was diagnosed with ALS. Over the next 12 months, Pat lost all of his mobility in his arms and his ability to swallow, speak, and breathe on his own. He now has a feeding tube and uses eye-gaze technology to communicate.
I have no idea how he dealt with his circumstances, because my life has been a breeze compared to his health challenges. What is truly inspiring is that he didn’t give up after getting the diagnosis. For the 2022-2023 season, he continued to coach his boys, challenging them to excel, inspiring them to be the best they could be, and teaching them how to come together as a team during tough times. St. John’s final record was 32 wins and 4 losses, and the season culminated with a dramatic victory over Paul VI High School in the WCAC championship game.
As Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote, “His game day starts four hours before tip-off. He needs help getting dressed and showered. . . She (his wife) stuffs his backpack with the essentials: the lemon drops, the tumblers—water, coffee, and a protein smoothie. He needs the smoothie for the calories, the coffee for the jolt, and the water for a refresher every time he talks.” And then he goes out and coaches these young men.
His story is a sad one and shows that even when you do all the right things, sometimes there isn’t a happy ending. As I thought about his story, I considered not writing about it because it is so distressing to think about. But after reflecting on it a little, I realized my perspective was too narrow. The impact that Pat has had on his players, the students at St. John's, and all of us who know his story is the silver lining. His perseverance under incredibly adverse circumstances to coach, teach, and inspire is a lesson for all of us.
Take care and stay safe.
Nothing Else Matters: How coaching became a form of medicine for Patrick Behan (You Tube ESPN)
Despite his debilitating condition, Pat Behan continued to coach his team at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. to a conference championship, inspiring his players and community with his determination and resilience. The episode delves deeply into Behan’s personal journey with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the impact he has had on his team and community.