The life and career of Columbus North’s Ali Patberg has been observed and written about from nearly every angle imaginable. From the time she first stepped on the high school court four years ago until she led the Bull Dogs to their first state title in girls basketball this past March, little has gone unsaid about her.
But one aspect of her life that has been relatively untouched is her devout Christian faith. Recently, I sat with Ali in the refurbished Columbus North gym where she has provided so many exciting moments.
Faith is important to the former high school superstar. And in fact, a conversation reveals that it is at the heart of who she is.
“(My faith) is the most important thing,” she said. “I wake up every morning, and, yeah, I want to be the best, but I want to be the best on the bigger stage so I can show people how great God is.”
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And she is the best. Personally, Ali has achieved about as much hardware as a high school basketball player can have.
Besides leading Columbus North to the 2015 state championship, she finished her career as North’s all time leader in points (2,026), assists (534) and steals (273), and came within 15 rebounds of also being the all-time leader in that category. She also was named Miss Basketball in Indiana, a McDonald’s All-American, and the sports website MaxPreps named her an All American and national player of the year.
This summer, she was a part of the FIBA under-19 team that traveled to Russia and came away with a gold medal. Add to that the prestigious Patricia Roy Mental Attitude award given at the conclusion of the state tourney, and you have a player respected by what she can do on and off the court.
Yet, when you meet her, she is very unassuming. There’s not the slightest hint of arrogance. Her leadership is as evident as her on-court ability.
The Columbus North Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter has been a place where she could share this leadership in her faith. FCA adviser Nate Schiefer said this about her: “I asked Ali to lead the message at FCA one Friday morning. She not only did a great job of sharing her faith and relating her faith to the game of basketball, but she brought many of the players with her, some of whom have continued to come.”
But don’t think that Patberg isn’t intense and hasn’t worked hard to rise to the top of her game. She was blessed with two parents who both knew basketball inside and out. Both her mom and dad were outstanding players at Hanover College.
Her dad, North assistant coach Ron Patberg, has had her in the gym from a very young age, but he has also emphasized other aspects of her life.
“He told me to go talk to people, and learn from them,” she said. “You’ve seen my dad on the sidelines, but my mom was just as much a coach. She tells me when I have had a bad attitude.”
Patberg’s discipline and devotion to the game is evident in her work ethic. She could often be found in the North gym at 6 a.m. alone, working on her game. She also cares about nutrition and mentions that she hasn’t been to a fast-food outlet in years.
But her faith is the key.
Mom Julie Davis said this about her daughter: “Ali’s faith is one of the most important things to her right now. She is trying to bring God into everything she does, whether it is on the court, in the classroom, or meeting new people.”
To stay connected with her mom as she begins the next phase of her career at Notre Dame, Patberg bought two copies of Sarah Young’s popular Christian devotional prayer book, “Jesus Calling.” One was for herself and one for her mom. Every night, they do a devotional together over the phone.
She also has been greatly affected this year watching the progress of her close friend, Josh Speidel, severely injured in a traffic accident during the basketball season. Patberg said that seeing the faith of the North all-star and his family during this time of recovery has been the greatest factor in her own spiritual growth.
A lot of things will be new for Ali as she becomes a part of the Notre Dame team that finished last season as the national runner-up. But there is one factor that will guide her on this journey: her deep faith in Jesus Christ.
After all, the Philippians 4:13 bracelet she wears is a constant reminder of what is important in life.
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national Face To Face sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at faceit@face- 2-face.org.
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national Face To Face sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.