Ken Owen has been a high school football coach for a long, long time. He spent 29 years coaching at Rockland High School before coming to Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School this year. For three decades, he worked to teach the game of football to high schoolers.
But it goes deeper than coaching a game. A coach—especially a good one—understands that the lessons he or she is teaching are not just about offense, defense and ball handling; they are about life.
Things like: discipline, perseverance and heart count for a lot; that your job depends on the performance of others and the others’ jobs depend on your performance; that life hurts sometimes and offers little sympathy; and that it absolutely matters who wins and who loses.
Under coach Owen’s direction, his players have won three Super Bowls and 11 league titles and chalked up more than 200 wins overall. He is a member of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, which is no small honor.
Below is an essay coach Owen wrote many years ago on the eve of his team’s Thanksgiving Day football game. He does a nice job capturing the effort and emotion that go into the game and all the memories that will stick with the players and their coaches forever:
“Captain’s practice, pre-season, heat and humidity, double sessions, scrimmages, season opener, team dinners, and homecoming. Hope and expectations. Wins, losses, bumps and bruises, long bombs, sprints, great runs, fumbles, dust and up-downs. Moments of brilliance, moments of despair! Broken plays, great catches, penalties, referees, praise, criticism, films, lectures, and bonus up-downs.
“Then, all of a sudden it’s Thanksgiving Day. What does a coach say to bunch of kids who he’s spent more time with the past three months than his own family, most of whom will be playing in their last game ever? I have always felt that what is said in the locker room between the players and coach is sacred; not to be taken lightly or shared outside the confines. It is the same between a parent and a child at home.
“Therefore, I will not expound upon any particulars regarding tomorrow’s pre-game. The generalities, however, are the same for all teams, and will be addressed by all worthy coaches. The seniors will never sit in one room again. Records are forgotten, it is time to play the finale.
“Time to sit for a few minutes and hopefully realize it was all worth it. For a few brief moments, while the seniors are gathered prior to kickoff, the meaning of football comes into focus. Football’s reasons for being are crystal clear. It’s okay to get excited, it’s okay to say nothing, it’s okay to shed a tear. This is the game the seniors will remember the rest of their lives. Each one has given of himself to the game; and for that the sport remains strong.
“Each team will sit with their coach before kickoff. Most will tell their seniors that as they leave, a part of them remains. Most seniors will also realize that as they leave, a part of the coach goes with them.
“Thanksgiving Day football is a day of traditional rivalries and a day of relentless emotions. Those who have not played the game cannot possibly understand the impact of a locker room feeling prior to Thursday’s contest. The sleepless eve, the early rise, the team breakfast, the pre-game prep, the kickoff, the final score, the memories.”