It was never about the numbers for Patti Hower. It was always about the people.

Yes, Hower did rack up some incredible, numerically prodigious accomplishments during a legendary 42-year career coaching girls’ basketball at Lebanon Catholic. In her four-plus decades on the bench on Assumption Hill, Hower accumulated an astounding 756 victories to go with 20 District 3 Class A titles and three PIAA Class A state championships, the last of which came in 2017.

But just three years later, in 2020, Hower and the storied girls’ hoops program she built had the rug pulled out from under them when, amid the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that spring, the Harrisburg Diocese opted suddenly to close Lebanon Catholic’s doors for good due to steadily declining enrollment and waning financial health.

Read More: Lebanon Catholic alumni reminisce following school closure: ‘It was a family’

Abruptly, appallingly, Hower no longer had a team to coach, or a dream job at a school that felt like home. And her players and fellow coaches no longer had a trusted mentor and/or friend in their daily lives.

“It was hard,” Hower said, looking back at that awful time. “Especially that first year. You had COVID, we leave school and we never return. That’s hard. And then (the following school year) you had basketball season starting up and we don’t have a team.”

“I think the fact that we didn’t get the: chance to choose our own destiny as far as Lebanon Catholic was concerned was hard for me to take,” said Mike Mohl, Hower’s longtime assistant coach and close friend. “If I resigned or retired, that’s my choice. To not be given a choice was very difficult. I felt betrayed.”

Hower and Mohl also felt badly for their former players, who were left to finish out their high school years at other schools in the area since there was no nearby Catholic school to take them in at the time.

But thanks to the efforts of many supporters of Lebanon Catholic and its students, including former LC principal Deb Waters, a replacement of sorts was found when a new Catholic school, Our Lady of the Cross, was founded in Lebanon in 2021. Located on Grace Avenue in North Lebanon Township, Our Lady of the Cross shares some similarities with its predecessor in Catholic education in Lebanon County, including a K-12 curriculum, and sports, including, you guessed it, a girls basketball program.

Read More: Catholic school enrollment is growing again at new school in Lebanon County

You’ll never guess who’s coaching it.

Yes, Hower, Mohl and Becky Kleinfelter, Hower’s daughter who played for her from 1997 to 2001 and later joined the coaching staff, have put the band back together. It’s obviously not quite the same, but it’s close enough.

“It’s great to be back with my assistant,” Hower said, nodding at Mohl. “It makes it fun. I couldn’t do it without him and Becky. It does feel good to be back on the court, instructing and watching them get better. Because that’s where we’re at.”

Because so many of her players are new to the sport and not yet as skilled as many of her Lebanon Catholic teams of the past, Hower and Mohl find themselves doing more teaching than coaching. And that’s fine with them. It’s being back in the gym again on a daily basis that’s most important right now.

“We just love to coach the kids,” Hower said. “To be around them and help them whatever way we can. A lot of people put a lot of work into getting this started, and if myself and Mike can help get it going. … We’ll give them whatever support we can.

“Getting the basketball started was important. I think for any school, it’s important to have sports to attract students. We just want to give them that foundation.”

Though it still has a way to go, the girls basketball program at Our Lady of the Cross has come a long way in a short period of time. It has just nine players at the varsity level right now, but has a number of kids at the junior high and youth level ready to step up when their time comes, including Hower’s two granddaughters.

“My granddaughters are here and I’m happy about that,” she said. “That’s another reason why I want to get the basketball going.”

And after playing its first games last season, the school has been recognized as a full-fledged member of the PIAA, Pennsylvania’s scholastic sports governing body, and will play a 17-game schedule this season. So far, Our Lady of the Cross has played three games, winning one – against York Country Day – and losing to Harrisburg Academy and Lititz Christian.

Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“I think things are going well here. I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Hower said. “And if we can help out any way we can, we’re doing it.” And with any luck, this time they’ll get to decide for themselves when the job is done.

“We just want to get it started,” Hower said, of what the future may hold. “I don’t know, it depends on how I feel. But I feel good physically and I enjoy it. If I don’t enjoy it, then that’s it. We have good kids, they’re receptive and respectful. I don’t have any knuckleheads.”

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Pat Huggins covered local sports for the Lebanon Daily News for almost 25 years, beginning in January of 1999. Pat was born and raised in Lebanon County and is a 1987 graduate of Lebanon High School and a 1991 alum of Elizabethtown College. A huge Phillies and 76ers fan, Pat spends his spare time on...


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