By Anna Grace Moore

Photos by Larry Dancy, Tracy Franklin & Jeremy Raines

Imagine a trail of footprints spanning miles farther than the naked eye can see–and that is the length of a legacy. Such can only be defined by a succinct group of individuals whose impact, like a ripple, affects more than they, the wavemakers, may ever know.

Pelham High School soccer coach Patrick McDonald’s legacy began when his parents first signed him up to play soccer in grade school. It grew as he did, playing four years of varsity soccer at Hillcrest High School.

After Patrick graduated, he attended the University of Montevallo, where he double-majored in biology and history and later received his master’s in education. His first job out of school was teaching sixth grade science at Vincent Middle School in 2003.

The following year, Patrick transferred to teach eighth grade physical science at Riverchase Middle School (now known as Pelham Park Middle School), where he founded the school’s first-ever soccer program.

Patrick coached middle school soccer from 2004-2006, and in 2007, he was recruited to be the head boys soccer coach at Pelham High School. That year, Pelham High School only had one senior and a couple of juniors, having only won two out of 10 games the season before.

Fearlessly, Patrick dove in head-first, drilling his players into outworking the odds stacked against them. At the same time, he continued raising up his middle school players, pouring his time and energy into every student’s capabilities.

“We attributed a lot of our success to starting the program at the middle school,” Patrick says. “I feel it really helped propel our team to have the success we have today.”

After only two seasons, Pelham High School made the playoffs in 2009 for the first time since 1999 and only the fourth time in school history. The team clinched playoffs again in 2010-2013, 2015-2019 and 2021-2023, and finally in 2017, Pelham won its first state championship.

In 2022, Pelham unfortunately lost in double overtime in the state finals to Mountain Brook High School. In 2023, the Panthers made it to the playoffs but initially lost in an upset to McAdory High School by one point before McAdory forfeited the win.

Some may see Pelham’s track record as impressive, but Patrick says even at the top, there is always room for improvement.

“It was so uncharacteristic for our program–it’s just something we don’t experience a lot,” Patrick says of losing to McAdory. “It was hard because soccer can sometimes be a cruel sport. We might not play our best at the most inopportune time.”

This loss emboldened the players to work harder to get back to the playoffs in the upcoming year. Patrick kept his head up and maintained his same persistence for pure performance.

“To have the ending that we had has helped build team chemistry this year and a singular focus of not letting that happen to us again,” Patrick says.

When his student-athletes returned in the fall, Patrick, more than ever, began emphasizing the rule of teamwork: teams either win together, or they lose together. No one person is the sole reason for a team’s successes or failures.

This attitude he implemented through team-building exercises on the field. On July 15, 2023, Patrick invited numerous Pelham soccer alumni to come play several games just for fun on the high school’s football field.

The event drew both local and out-of-town players, from some who graduated the previous year to some who graduated more than a decade ago. Nobody kept score, and new friendships were made.

Patrick even gave some of his former players a tour of Pelham’s soccer facilities, showing his alumni just how far the program had come. When Patrick first took over as head coach, some of the older players did not have their own lockers, and now, the soccer program has its own practice field and a portion of the athletic complex’s fieldhouse.

“Looking back, I enjoyed dedicating the time I did to this sport,” Patrick says. “That’s what makes my job worth it.”

The team also enjoyed themed games such as ‘80s night, where the players dressed up in vintage uniforms and focused on playing for fun. Patrick says before every game, he reminds his players that while they play to win, they also play to create great memories with each other.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have some outstanding student-athletes that buy in and understand that what we do matters,” Patrick says.

He credits several players such as Raul Jacobo and Matthew Chaux who helped build the team’s camaraderie and strengthen the bonds between all of the players.

Before long, the 2024 season opened, and the once downtrodden Panthers were now ready to make a comeback. During the first game of the 2024 season, Pelham shut-out Fultondale, 4-0.

“That’s what makes it exciting every single year,” Patrick says. “It’s a blank canvas when the season starts, and I have the opportunity to mold a team. I have the best coaching staff in the world.”

Just five wins away from a career-high of 250, Patrick says his student-athletes continue to impress him–not just with their success on the field, but also how they carry themselves outside the sport. If anything, soccer teaches humility–the ability to accept the consequences of poor performance and the drive to level up and attain the standard of excellence needed to win.

If his team’s successes are any indication of his legacy, then Patrick’s most notable quality as a coach is his initiative to enrich the lives of his players. After all, hard work beats talent when talent gets lazy.

It Takes a Village

Patrick McDonald credits his success to his assistant coach, Lance Curry, and his wife, Ginger McDonald, for their support in helping him coach the Pelham High School Panthers. To follow the Panthers’ 2024 season, follow Pelham High School Athletics on Facebook.