In 1968-69, Coach Pat Higgins was a fifth-year senior at Lewis University.
He’d used up his baseball eligibility and was pondering his next step in life after majoring in political science, and he considered becoming a lawyer.
However, all the while, a perfect career choice was right in front of him.
“I was working on a minor in physical education, too. I knew I wasn’t going to be an MLB player,” Higgins said with a laugh. “I lived in the gym. I was a gym rat. I played intramurals. Then, it dawned on me, ‘You should do this as a career!’”
That was the start of a career full of a variety of sports and working with young athletes as a coach and teacher. A longtime elementary school teacher and coach at Prairie Junior High and District 126 in Alsip and a 500-win baseball coach at the high school level, Higgins definitely left his mark on youth and high school sports during a memorable career.
In honor of his achievements, Higgins will be inducted into the fourth class of the Lewis University Academy of Coaches. This year’s class will be honored on Jan. 28 during halftime of the Lewis men’s basketball game (tip-off 3 p.m.) against Indianapolis.
Higgins wore No. 19 during his playing days.
“I’m on Cloud 19. It’s a big thing for me to be in the same league as the guys in this class and those before,” Higgins said. “It’s quite an honor for me. It’s going to be a big day. It’s a huge highlight for me. Getting the call from Lewis, it really came out of nowhere. I’m still floating.”
Along with his coaching and teaching at the elementary school level from 1969 until he retired in 2002, Higgins was a consistent winner in the high school baseball ranks with coaching stops at Shepard, Stagg, Marist, Eisenhower, Marian Catholic and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS).
He finished with 519 career high school wins, including those during a 10-year stint at CHSAS.
And, no matter where or at what level, Higgins loved coaching young athletes.
“I always say my two favorite things to be called, Dad and now Grandpa, was to be called Coach,” Higgins said. “There’s always something to be happy about in coaching. To be able to work every day with kids and help them improve, that’s worth everything in the world. I loved teaching, but I couldn’t wait until 2 or 3 p.m., when school was over and we could get between the lines on the field.”
Higgins retired from coaching high school athletics in 2017 at CHSAS.
With a career that spanned parts of six decades, Higgins saw it all, including kids he coached who came back all grown up with their own kids.
“You have players come back and shake your hand with their sons,” Higgins said. “Your heart melts when they say, ‘This was my coach!’ You help kids out and know they appreciated it. To see that and have that success, that’s the reason to help out as a coach.”
Higgins, a Mt. Greenwood native and Br. Rice High School graduate, also played semi-professional football with the Mt. Greenwood Bulls.
In baseball, he played every position but first base and pitcher. At Lewis, depending on roster depth, he played shortstop, second base or center field.
Wherever he was needed, that’s where he took the field. His love of baseball started at a young age in the Higgins’ household. While growing up, he also played basketball and football.
“My dad, Tom, had a cup of coffee with the Detroit Tigers,” Higgins said. “That’s all we heard about. Growing up, we lived across the street from a park. We were there all the time with games all over. I was a gym rat, and I had most of my success in high school and college because I played all three sports.”
Higgins was quick to thank his wife, Shirley, for all her help and continued support over the years to help raise their family. Pat and Shirley still live in Mt. Greenwood. With his coaching days behind him, he’s enjoying watching his grandchildren compete in sports.
As for being an assistant or volunteer coach, he gave it a shot.
“I don’t want to step on toes [as an assistant]. I did go to a practice, but I ended up taking over,” Higgins said with a laugh. “I couldn’t stop talking. I don’t want to not help the coaches. I miss it so much, but I’m loving watching the grandkids.”