Editor's note: This story is part of a weekly summer series recycling of "Curt's Replays" column by longtime IR sports writer Curt Synness. The article on Pat Connors was first published on Sept. 10, 2002.
HELENA — After Pat Connors retired from teaching at Helena High in 1998, the first thing he did was travel to see two of his favorite teams play. He saw a New York Yankees baseball game in Seattle and a Notre Dame football game in South Bend, Indiana.
“If you’re from Butte, the three teams you automatically root for are the Yankees, Notre Dame and the Green Bay Packers,” Connors said with a smile.
Connors went to Butte High from 1946-50, and after graduation he served four years in the U.S. Navy. He returned to Butte and worked in the Stewart Mines before attending Carroll College from 1956-59. A husky 205-pounder, he played three years of varsity football at tackle and guard, and was an outfielder for the Saints’ baseball team.
After graduating from Carroll with a master’s degree in history, Connors began teaching at Helena Cathedral High in 1960. He was the Greenies assistant football coach under Tom Kelly for two years, before taking over as head coach from 1962-65.
“Those were the days when you coached for free, it was just part of the job,” Connors recalled.
Gary Anders, who was a Cathedral lineman in 1962, referring to Pat Connors’s toughness, said that the only thing grittier than his former coach was the sand at the old ice skating rink that they practiced on.
“I was very intense at first,” Connors said with a grin, “but I mellowed out as time went on.”
He served as the assistant basketball coach and head track and field coach at Cathedral from 1960-65, and then as athletic director in 1965-66. In 1967, Pat moved over to Helena High, where he taught until his retirement four years ago.
During his 38 years in the local high school systems — interrupted only by a stint at the University of Utah to earn a master’s degree in science and social science — he taught social studies, U.S. government, world cultures and U.S. history.
Connors was the Bengal grid line coach from 1967-76. He started working with the track team in 1974 and still coaches the long and triple jumpers.
“Once they learn the technique, it’s up to the kids to do the job,” Connors explained. He has coached five long jump state champions — Steve Wilkins, Darin Zinnecker, Tim Agee (twice) and Tyler Peterson; and two triple jump runners-up — Chris Spoja and Adam Strainer, both of whom got beat on the final jump.
“It sure would have been nice to get a triple jump champ before I quit,” he said with a sigh.
Connors also kept the books for coach Jack Cohn’s wrestling team, and for the last 32 years, at HHS varsity and JV basketball, Bill Gilbert has run the game clock, while Connors has kept the stat books (the boys since 1970 and the girls since 1973. Pat said he’s worked “over 1,130” Bengal hoops contests.
His wife, Joyce, was a secretary in the Helena school systems for 25 years, as well.
The couple has two children, Dan Connors and Colleen Carroll. Dan competed at football (quarterback), basketball and track at HHS in the 1970s, and is currently employed as a teacher and coach at Billings Senior. Pat thinks his son looks like Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher. Daughter Colleen Carroll, who ran cross country and track for the Lady Bengals, presently works for the fish and game department.
Connors, 70, stays busy these days doing lawn and garden work and tackling projects around the house. He has undergone open-heart surgery and a hip replacement.
“They say the heart operation is supposed to be good for only 10 years,” Connors jokes about his 1990 surgery. “It’s been 12 years now, and I tell people I wish the rest of me was in as good as shape as my heart.”
Almost daily Pat and Joyce go for a predawn walk. He works out two to three times a week on the treadmill and bicycle, and of course there’s always a local game to watch.
“Our social activities revolve around attending sporting events,” Connors related.
The Connors — who recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary — especially enjoy watching their granddaughter, Mandee Carroll, compete at sports for Helena High. And maybe someday Pat will complete the trifecta and get to see a Packers game at Lambeau Field.
NOTE: Pat Connors passed away in December 2015.