Pat Welsh is dedicated to area youth
Pat Welsh never sought recognition, but it deservedly found him after spending many years helping young people across southern Middle Tennessee.
Welsh is wrapping up a year of accolades with one more – The Tullahoma News 2017 Citizen of the Year.
Whether it be helping young wrestlers on the mat or enriching the experience of students in the classroom, Welsh has devoted his life to aiding children in Tullahoma.
And, in 2017, that commitment to his community and the young people who call Tullahoma home was recognized on a national level, something Welsh has described as “overwhelming.”
In early July, it was announced that Welsh would be inducted into the Tennessee Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for his contribution to the sport. In November, he was named as a member of the All-Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) and was additionally named as a director to the Tennessee School Boards Association.
Welsh has been a Tullahoma resident for the majority of his life after his parents, Loretta Welsh and the late Clement J. Welsh, moved to the city in 1955. He graduated from Tullahoma High School in 1972 before heading off to Cookeville to attend Tennessee Tech.
He then went on to teach and coach for three years at Battle Ground Academy (BGA) in Franklin before returning to Tullahoma for good in 1979 to work for Builders Supply Co.
He and his wife, Beth Sanders Welsh, have raised three children, all of whom attended Tullahoma High School and went on to achieve success in classrooms here and beyond.
Welsh’s oldest, John, attended Dartmouth College and was a member of the cross-country and track teams there. He then received a doctorate from Stanford University in California.
Welsh’s daughter Martha received a degree in math from Vanderbilt University before earning a master’s degree in math education from Lipscomb University. She is currently a math teacher in Franklin.
His youngest son Michael received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He is currently doing post-doctoral work in Boston.
“They all did really well in school,” Welsh said. “That’s one of the reasons why the school board responsibilities mean so much to me. I want every child to have the same opportunity that they had. They took advantage of theirs. If you’re a good student, you have to take advantage of what’s being offered at the high school for sure.”
While he currently serves on the Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education, he has also been involved in other city boards throughout the years. He was active on the board of the Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce and also served as the group’s president, as well as holding the post of chairman of the Tullahoma Industrial Board. Welsh also served as a city alderman from 1985-88.
For Welsh, the time he’s devoted to his various posts in the community were a way to give back to a town that has given him and his family so much.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here, I have a lot invested here and this town has been great to my family,” Welsh said. “It’s been a great community and a great community to raise a family in.”
Wrestling Hall of Fame
For his contribution to of youth wrestlers across the state, Welsh was inducted into the Tennessee Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in July. Welsh was honored, alongside five other individuals, as a Lifetime Service Honoree for his decades-long commitment to helping young athletes succeed both on and off the mat.
“Pat, like most real wrestling people, is a humble man,” said P.A. Bowler, Tennessee chapter president of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “He never sought the spotlight. He’s been a quiet contributor in whatever capacity he was needed. He’s been a tournament director, scorekeeper, mat mopper, mentor, cheerleader and coach. He’s done it all and if you are on the periphery of wrestling you may not even know him.”
Welsh received his introduction to the sport of wrestling while he was at BGA in 1976. During his first year there, the head wrestling coach asked Welsh to help with the middle school program. Welsh accepted that offer and a year later, he was the new wrestling coach at the high school.
After returning to Tullahoma in 1979, Welsh thought he was done with the sport — that was until his oldest son, John, was in elementary school. Welsh was approached by Ken Hagan, who knew of Welsh’s coaching background at BGA.
Hagan, who wrestled in college, including a national tournament appearance, wanted to know if Welsh knew of anybody who was interested in youth wrestling as Hagan’s son was interested in the sport.
From there, Welsh and Hagan worked on founding a program for youth wrestlers in the area, the first in Middle Tennessee. That’s where the Tullahoma Takedown Club was born, introducing youths to the sport of wrestling, while competing in several different tournaments.
Since that small initial class, the program has grown and aided the development of several wrestlers at the high school level. The Tullahoma High School wrestling program started during the 1969-70 school year, but up until 1998, the school had only seen three athletes become state placers. Since 1998, THS has had over 30 state place winners, including four state champions.
“On a high school level, Tullahoma has a long-standing reputation of being fierce, tough competitors,” Bowler said. “They have had many state champions and more than their fair share of state placers. Most of them got their start in the Tullahoma kids club that Pat founded in 1991 and has been involved with ever since.
“That may be his biggest contribution, instilling a passion and commitment to so many kids and adults over the years to a sport that helps shape children into strong, confident adults who know what hard work, sacrifice, commitment, and putting the team before yourself is all about.”
Thinking back on that first class of young wrestlers, Welsh noted that several of those grapplers have found success off of the mat. Out of those wrestlers, Welsh said, two went on to receive master’s degrees, another earned a law degree, two are now medical doctors, two more completed their doctorates, and one now coaches at a Division I wrestling program.
Also on that list is Cody Cleveland, a two-time state champion and a four-time state medalist. Cleveland was the last Tennessee-raised NCAA Placer who became an All-American and now is an assistant coach at the Naval Academy.
“I was there his (Cleveland) first tournament and he got in a horrible pinning combination and he tried to call timeout,” Welsh recalled. “It’s really neat to be a small part of a kid’s life who started calling timeout while he was getting pinned and ends up beating a guy from Michigan in what’s called the Blood Round of the NCAA. You either place and become an All-American by winning that (Blood Round) match or go home with nothing.
“Now he’s coaching at the Naval Academy. His office overlooks the Chesapeake Bay,” Welsh added. “It wasn’t me. He got an opportunity to be on level with other people. I am really, really proud of that.”
All of the 2017 inductees into this year’s chapter of the Tennessee Hall of Fame class saw their names etched in the Stillwater, Oklahoma Hall of Fame. All of the inductees were also honored in a banquet that took place in Aug. 27.
On Oct. 15, the THS wrestling team also held a ceremony, with a celebration taking place at Old West Middle School. The THS team honored Welsh and a plaque was placed on the wall inside the gymnasium at the school.
School Board Recognition
In November, Welsh was awarded for his dedication and service to the city’s children by being named to the All-Tennessee School Board at the Tennessee School Boards Association’s (TSBA) annual convention in Nashville.
The award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding record of service and who have participated in a number of “boardsmanship” award programs, according to a press release from TSBA. Specifically, the award focuses on achievements over the previous 12 months.
In order to qualify for the distinction, school board members must meet the following criteria:
- Must have achieved Level IV in the boardsmanship award program;
- Quality of service with emphasis on the previous 12 months;
- Participation in board development activities with emphasis on the previous 12 months;
- Specific accomplishments of the local board of education during the nominee’s term on the board and;
- Leadership activities at the local, regional or state level.
Welsh is one of seven members of the 2017 All-Tennessee School Board. He said receiving the award was also a confirmation that he is doing his best by the students he serves in Tullahoma.
While the award is appreciated, Welsh said, acknowledgment is not what motivates him to work hard in his capacity as chairman of the school board. What does motivate him, he said, are the students of Tullahoma.
“What motivates me is to do better is the 2,500 students that I’m trying to serve,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Erin McCullough contributed to this story.