By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
It’s pretty rare when a teenager opts to pass an athletic scholarship to stay at home and spend time with his father.
But that’s exactly what Jay Bowler did when he passed on a golf scholarship to stay at home and coach basketball with father, John, coach of the Edgewood Warriors basketball team.
The younger Bowler graduated from Perry high school a semester early in 2012 and decided to join his dad on the bench when Bowler made his return to coaching high school after a stint with the St. John Heralds in the early 1990s.
“Jay was a senior at Perry and he decided not to go out for basketball because I was coaching,” John said. “He started coming to practices and just fell in love with it. He loves helping me with the drills and being around the kids. I think people who know me know how much I enjoy coaching, but he might enjoy it just as much as I do.”
Coaching can be a demanding profession for even the most experienced, so when a younger coach comes in, much less one who is the same age or a year older than the players he’s coaching.
Jay said that would be an issue at many schools, but at Edgewood it hasn’t been a problem.
“The kids at Edgewood have a lot of respect,” Jay said. “There’s a fine line with how I can talk to them. I can’t yell at them as much, especially last year because kids could think, ‘what does he know?’
“So I kind of approach is it is I tell them, ‘I might not be able to do it, but I know what to do.’ I wasn’t gifted with a lot of size and speed. But just from being around my dad so long, I learned so much being with him.”
When the elder Bowler decided to return to coaching high school after years of coaching his son’s AAU teams, he said it wasn’t originally his idea to have his son join him at Edgewood.
“It really wasn’t (my idea) it was more his idea because being with me and being together and loving the game, he just always loved the game of basketball,” John said. “He’d watch it all the time, he’s always been a student of the game. He and I talk strategies even when I wasn’t coaching. I don’t think I realized he was listening all those years when I was talking.
“Now when there’s a game when I switch defenses, he’s saying almost the same thing at the time; we’re both on the same page.”
When Jay, a two-time All-Ohio performer in golf while at Perry, told his father he was leaning toward passing on a scholarship, John said he had mixed emotions.
“At firs,t I was thinking he should go play and get a free education and I thought about the money,” he said. “But when he told me the reason he wanted to stay home was to coach and spend time with me, I agreed 100 percent. It was fortunate for us that Kent has a branch here where he can go for three years before he goes to main campus.”
Jay, who is majoring in finance while at Kent Ashtabula, said his relationship with his father was the driving force behind his decision.
“We’ve always been so close, there’s not one day I haven’t hung out with him,” he said. “I’m with him all day when I’m not at school we’re doing other things. I’ll be out playing golf with him, even when he was working I was there with him. This is a new experience, but him and I are pretty much best friends.”
Family has always been an important part of John’s life as he left the high school coaching ranks to support Jay and his daughter Lindsey, 25.
“The biggest reason I left was coaching him and my daughter,” he said. “We had AAU teams, they played at the YMCA, I just really wanted to watch him and Lindsey play sports. I didn’t have time to coach and do both. So when Jay was a senior at Perry and he decided he didn’t want to go out, it was the perfect time to get back in.
“And my daughter Lindsey, she ended up going off to do other things than sports but I was so proud of her and glad I that I was able to support her.”
While last year was more of a sit-and-learn process for Jay, this season he has been much more involved with the development of the JV team as well as the game planning for the varsity.
“He really has been a big help this year,” he said. “He’s been much more involved with the practices and he’s really helping (JV coach) Stofe (Paul Stofan). He’s really helping us out a lot.”
Not surprisingly, Jay agreed with his father.
“I just feel I’m definitely more confident this year,” he said. “I feel more confident with what I can bring without stepping on anyone’s toes. There’s a fine line with me telling my dad to something. You got my dad who’s been doing this for so long and then this 19-year-old kid, but he listens to me, though.
“If I say we should go to trap real quick, he’ll listen and do it. If it doesn’t work, it’s my responsibility and it falls on me.”
That confidence paid dividends for Jay as he was in charge of a game for the first this season.
The younger Bowler coached JV on his own, filling in for Stofan, during a 40-30 win for the Warriors over Lutheran East.
“I went to practice the night before and made sure they were ready and knew what I expected,” he said. “I told them I’m going to be perfect. I’m going to put 100 percent into it. Also, my dad was right there, he gave me a few pointers.”
For John, it was a role reversal from what he was used to. Before he became the head coach at St. John, Bowler served as JV coach for the late Larry Daniels.
“I had to sit on the bench, he’s coaching, so the roles were reversed. At one point, I had to tell him to sit down because I couldn’t see,” Bowler said with a laugh. “It was fun to see them in charge of the team and making the decisions. I thought he made some of the same decisions I would.”
While Jay isn’t sure where his future in coaching is headed, he does know he’s gaining valuable experience along the way.
“I’m not sure what I wanna do or if I wanna go further into it,” he said. “Right now, it’s just fun, I do it because I love it. It’s the same with my dad. It has nothing to do with the money, I do it because I like it. I’ve always been around it. It’s fun, new experiences and challenges.
“I mean last year, they were just great kids and even this year is really good, they have a ton of respect. A lot of times, coaches are the bad guys, but with us, it’s very laid back, they’re awesome kids and it’s fun. They have fun, no matter what and they play hard and that makes it fun.”
While the players make it fun for the Bowlers to coach, John said sharing the bench with his son will be a lasting memory and a highlight of his coaching career.
“This is definitely something I’ll look back on, and he will, too, when I’m gone, I’m sure, and we’ll treasure these moments, being with him and coaching,” he said. “My father was a guy who liked to coach football and things, but I never really had a chance to coach with him.
“I’m going to look back at this some day and the pictures and just absolutely treasure it.”