Owens to get Lifetime Achievement Award
In his or her career, a coach — especially one with longevity — impacts the lives of a staggering number of young people.
Those coaches who do not seek the limelight but instead are satisfied to develop not only athletes but also solid citizens, too often go unrecognized.
In a coaching career that spanned 29 years, Gene Owens never sought attention or personal glory. His focus was on his players and he gladly shared credit with his fellow coaches. Whether he sought credit or not, his peers recognized his contributions by voting him into the East Tennessee Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame and he is also part of the Clinton High School Wall of Fame.
Even though he has not coached since 2005, Owens has one more honor coming.
On Jan. 13, the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association will honor Owens with a Lifetime Achievement Award at their annual meeting in Franklin.
Originally from Marlowe, Owens graduated from Clinton High School where he standout pitcher on the baseball team. His ability on the mound led him to a scholarship to Cumberland College (now University of the Cumberlands) in Williamsburg. Ky., where he played baseball for longtime Indians’ Head Coach Walter Mathes.
When he graduated from Cumberland, Owens got a job teaching science and biology as well as coaching basketball at Clinton Junior High School. For two years he also coached the track program as well.
In 1973, Alvin Taylor was named head baseball coach at Clinton Senior High School and asked his childhood friend Owens to serve as an assistant. At that point, Owens left track behind.
“We both did double duty in those years. He [Taylor] was head baseball coach and assistant basketball coach at the high school. I was head basketball coach at the junior high school and assistant baseball coach at the high school,” Owens said.
“I knew we would work well together. We’ve been friends forever,” Taylor said.
It was a partnership that lasted until 1985 when Taylor resigned to become head basketball coach at Anderson County High School. Owens took over the Dragons’ baseball program and served as head coach until 1989.
In 1988, he was named District 3-AAA Coach of the Year and his Dragons won the district title.
During the 1980s, Clinton went to the regionals five times — 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1989. They narrowly missed the regional in 1981 when they lost to Knoxville West with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
“First of all, he’s a good man. He was critical to our success and not just in the eighties. We had some great teams in the seventies. We had some really good pitchers but a lot of that was due to the work he did with them. Gene kept them in shape and kept them throwing strikes,” Taylor said.
In the meanwhile, Taylor left ACHS after two years and returned to Clinton and joined Owens as an assistant coach along with Jim Payne.
“It really wasn’t a matter of being a head coach or an assistant coach. We were pretty much on the same page so it wasn’t much difference. Everything pretty much went on about the same the whole time,” Owens said.
“We had a good rapport with the parents and a majority of parents were behind us. We knew some baseball and most of the time we didn’t have off field problems. I felt like we had support from everybody — from the high school itself to the Clinton community. We gave it all we had and we enjoyed the game,” he said.
After the 1989 season, Owen resigned as head coach to spend more time with his daughters who were starting to play softball. Taylor was named his successor — Owens recommended him for the job.
After several years away from high school baseball, Owens returned to the Clinton staff in 1995 to work with Taylor. He remained on the staff until 2005, when Casey Taylor became head coach of the Dragons.
Rob Ivey played second base and shortstop for Clinton in 1973 and 1974 and was part of the first Dragons’ squad coached by the tandem of Taylor and Owens.
“Coach Owens and Coach Taylor mean the world to me. They were great influences on my life. They were more than coaches — they were father figures and just great mentors to us,” Ivey said.
“A lot of the preseason and early season workouts were run by Coach Owens because Coach Taylor was also an assistant basketball coach at the high school. Coach Owens would absolutely run us to death. We loved it when Coach Taylor came back because it wasn’t quite as brutal but we were in good shape,” he said with a laugh.
It was a common memory among former players.
“We started [workouts] right after Christmas. We ran and we ran and we ran and we ran. We would run for a month on our own before workouts started because we knew what was coming,” said Roger Fletcher, a 1979 CHS graduate who played third base. He and Alvin should have been Siamese twins. Gene was the calm one and Alvin was the fireball. They were really two of a kind. I loved them. We’re still close friends. They are top-notch guys.
“Gene was very patient and a very calming influence. He was very knowledgeable in the whole art of pitching. He taught you the basics to be a better and more effective pitcher,” Steve Clapp, who pitched at Clinton from 1983-1985 and later pitched at Tennessee Tech from 1985-1989.
“Outside of my dad’s influence on my baseball career, Gene was the next person in line. He did the most for me in terms of helping make me a better pitcher as well as prepare me for college,” Clapp added.
“I was one of the few people who knew Gene my whole life. He was just a good friend — somebody who cared about the kids and cared about development,” said Alan Seivers, who was District 3-3A Player of the Year in 1988.
“He wasn’t just my head coach, he was the pitching coach. I actually threw a no-hitter that year and I remember seeing his face as I walked off the to the third base dugout, just seeing the gratification and his happiness for me,” Seivers said.
“He was just a good friend. He cared about you and your family. He cared about who you were and cared about you as a student,” he added.
Over the years, Owens saw a large number of kids come through the programs he coached. And while he has numerous memories he doesn’t pick out only one.
“I remember the whole group of boys I coached down through the years. I enjoyed being around them and I enjoyed coaching them in baseball and basketball both. I had a lot of fun down through the years,” Owens said.
“It’s not a matter of how successful they were — and many of them were very successful — but it was just fun being around all of them. It was fun being around the game. It was fun watching all of those kids grow up and not just the ones in baseball but the ones in class,” he said.