By DON McCORMACK - email@example.com
The other night at Edgewood, a man whom I had not seen in more than two decades approached me.
He stuck his hand out, put an arm on my shoulder and said, “Don, it’s so great to see you. We’ve emailed, etc., but I know it’s been more than 20 years since we’ve seen each other.
“You look great!”
His poor eyesight not withstanding (he is 55, after all), we chit-chatted about this, that and the other. He lamented his now-all-gray hair, with a smile, of course. He asked about how things are at the newspaper and I asked him how he’s feeling.
Then, I asked him about his basketball team and a huge smile immediately ran across his face.
“I am soooo thrilled and, yes, fortunate to have the chance, to get back into coaching,” John Bowler, coach of the Edgewood boys, said. “I mean, I guess I never realized just how much I truly love it until I came back after being away for a bit.”
“A bit” was two decades, in fact. John Bowler’s last head-coaching gig was when he capped a five-season run as head coach of the St. John Heralds after the 1991-92 season.
“I couldn’t have imagined it could be as special as it is for me when I came back,” he said. “But it is.
“It really is.”
I congratulated John, himself and his brother, Tim, fine players for Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Famer Bob Walters during their playing days as Ashtabula Panthers, on the success of his 2012-13 Warriors.
“Yes, the wins are nice... it’s always nice to win,” he said. “But, really, that’s just icing in the cake.
“The chance to be with and around these guys on an everyday basis and to see them grow, not just as players, but more importantly, as young men, just means the world to me.”
In Bowler’s first season back in the game, his Warriors went 8-14 a year ago.
This season, though, it’s a different story, at least in terms of the bottom line.
“The transformation from coming in as The New Guy to this year, wow!... It’s like night and day,” he said. “Last year, I’d say something, tell them we’re going to run a certain drill, and I’d get the wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look.
“This year, it’s an instant reaction from the guys — they just go and do it.”
Without hesitation, almost in the same breath, Bowler offered proof.
“The other day, we were running,” he said. “And when I signaled we were finished, a couple of the guys came to me and said, ‘Coach, we haven’t run enough, yet. We ran more than we did today earlier in the season. Can we run some more?’
“I was floored.”
Which speaks volumes as to why Edgewood improved 14-6 with a 62-59 road triumph against Cardinal on Friday night, the most wins since former Warrior Kevin Andrejack’s 2004-05 Edgewood team went 16-5.
Having played for a Hall of Famer in Bob Walters, arguably one of the five greatest players in Ashtabula County history, Bowler cut his teeth as a coach while serving as the junior-varsity coach at St. John for the late great Larry Daniels, who was posthumously inducted into the Amanda Clearcreek High School Hall of Fame this winter, for three years at St. John.
How special was their relationship? After three seasons, they did something almost unheard of — they switched positions, Bowler taking over as head coach of the Heralds and Daniels running the JV squad before the 1987-88 season
And it was Daniels’ idea.
“John’s ready to be The Man,” Daniels, one of my high school teachers, said. “He’s more than paid his dues. He’s pretty much carried me the last two years, anyway, and the kids love and look up to him.
“My time is about up. It’s his time, now.”
Though Bowler’s “his time, Part I” lasted but five seasons, it was not without dramatics.
His 1988-89 St. John team, a squad that featured three guys who are or will be down the line members of the ACBF Hall of Fame in point guard Jim Chiacchiero (already inducted), center Steve Hanek (being inducted this year) and power forward Dave Golen, went 18-3 and shared the Northeastern Conference championship with Bowler’s alma mater, Ashtabula, coached by John Higgins, who will enter the ACBF HOF this spring with Hanek.
That NEC championship in 1988-89 remains the only boys basketball conference championship in the 57 seasons the Heralds have been hitting the hardwood.
Bowler’s “his time, Part II” will not include a conference championship, at least not this season — Edgewood is still an independent.
Without a league crown to chase, it can make things difficult. However, Bowler’s bunch has turned what is perceived as a negative into a positive — to them, every game is important, including tomorrow night’s trek to Grand Valley, a game which will have even more meaning as it features a fellow Ashtabula County squad.
“These guys really are a great group of kids,” Bowler, who was brought to Edgewood by Edgewood principal Karl Williamson, said. “They make me appreciate each and every day I have with them.
“Together, we have a blast.”
Bowler, whose JV coach is good friend Paul Stofan, a fellow Ashtabula graduate and player and a former coach at St. John, Madison and now as the head volleyball coach at Conneaut, then walked me over to cleancut young man.
“Don, have you met my son, Jay?” he said.
I shook hands with Jay, instantly scanning my memory banks in an effort to recollect the last time I had seen him.
In actuality, it was his pre-kindergarten days.
Jay, a 2012 Perry High School graduate, is coaching with his dad at Edgewood — and putting a golf scholarship on hold to do so. The 19-year-old is majoring in finance as he takes classes at Kent State University-Ashtabula Campus.
“Having Jay by my side... ” John said, not being able to finish the sentence as his eyes glassed over.
“Having been given the opportunity to get back into a game, a game that has meant to much to me all my life, is special,” he said. “But having the chance to do so with my son... I’m not sure... no, I know, I cannot describe how much this means to me.
“It is truly a blessing. Basketball has given so much to me.
“I don’t need to coach, I want to coach. And the chance to do so here, with these guys, while working with Paul and Jay... I couldn’t ask for more.
“I’m having the time of my life.”
“His time, Part II.”
Who says sequels stink?
McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.