What Coach Bowman Taught Me

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.  — John Wooden

L ast night, I ran into my 9th grade basketball coach, Rex Bowman, at a surprise birthday party for my closest high school friend. I hadn’t seen Coach Bowman for years and it was wonderful to catch up for a few minutes. We all have those teachers or coaches who we remember as being key influences along our frequently bumpy paths through adolescence into adulthood. Coach Bowman was mine. As I write this, I realize the significance of that statement relative to my life given the fact that I attended 10 schools between 1st and 12th grade. I encountered many, many teachers, coaches, and other influencers along the way.

Retired now, Rex Bowman was a career educator with an amazing ability to focus and simplify. In a room full of students or in a gym full of athletes, you always felt that you had his complete attention. Of course, for those of us who were prone to shenanigans, you often didn’t want his full attention. On the court, he could take a moment in practice or during a timeout and bring clarity to chaos with a deep voice that always seemed to have the right answer.

Coach Bowman was the authority figure’s authority figure. He always seemed to be above it all in both a positive and frightening way. Everyone respected him. He wasn’t a yeller or intimidator, his voice could boom without needing much volume. However, he always presented a demanding rightness. His manner and outlook called you to more – no matter where you stood on that continuum. You didn’t want to disappoint Coach Bowman; not for fear of being in trouble but for fear of letting him down.

In our few minutes last night, a wave of memories came back. I can still see his big wing tips as I hung my head to catch my breath, his voice ringing in my ears: “You can do this.” I can feel his big hand upon my shoulder as he pointed to an opponent on the court, asking me to lock him down defensively. I can feel his presence in the gym as we ran line drills and, with no words, asking me if I was giving it my all. By simply being, he pushed me to more.

“We all have bad games,” he said. “On the court and in life. All we can do is our best and keep pushing forward.” No success was final nor any mistake fatal on Rex Bowman’s court. Redemption waited in your next decision, that next opportunity to do your best. He repeated it to me last night and it was 1984 all over again.

Considering our brief conversation, I realize that Coach Bowman’s words weren’t the end of his lesson for us. As a young man, I saw him as a bastion of all that is right and good in the world. A steady force of proper manhood; an example to be emulated. Father. Husband. Grandfather. Coach. Teacher. Neighbor. Mentor. A good man in word and deed. A strong presence to counter darkness, real or imagined. As a man with children and a grandchild of my own, I see Rex Bowman as a throwback to another era with a set of values that I want for my own: Patriotic. God-loving. Principled. Honest. Dedicated. Disciplined. Caring. Present. Good.

Thirty four years later, I still see him, white short-sleeve button-down shirt with a tie, dark slacks, and wing tips. “I’ve been coaching for many years,” he booms as we let up our intensity during practice, “and I know what it takes to win. You can’t be your best in the game if you don’t give your best in practice.” So true Coach. Thank you.


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