PULLMAN – There are fixtures in this city.
The most obvious, of course, is Washington State University.
Less obvious, but certainly not inconspicuous, is Ralph Bowman.
Bowman arrived in Pullman in 1956 from San Bernardino, Calif., when his father took a job in WSU’s agricultural department.
Pullman became his adopted hometown, and he hasn’t left.
Nobody has been more dedicated to Pullman High athletics over the years than Bowman. It started when he was in high school and was a manager for football coach Ray Hobbs.
The 1961 Pullman graduate started keeping statistics and the scorebook for football and basketball in 1965 and he added those same duties in baseball in 1968.
“They decided they wanted an adult to keep the book. Before that student managers did it,” Bowman said. “I got involved because I had nothing else to do.”
The way Bowman saw it, if he was going to be at the games he might as well be involved, too.
He’s put thousands of miles on five vehicles the past five decades. He stopped keeping the scorebook in football and basketball in the late 1990s, but continued to stay involved in baseball and American Legion. This will be his 50th summer with the Legion program.
Bowman, 70, would like to go another five years keeping the Greyhounds’ book in baseball. But health issues this past year – prostate cancer and sleep apnea – may cut short his goal.
He worked 35 years as a custodian at WSU, retiring in 1998. He purposely worked a 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift so he could have his afternoons and evenings free attending football, basketball and baseball games.
He’s been the first contact with area newspapers and TV and radio stations the past 50 years. He took it upon himself to call in box scores from the three sports to The Spokesman-Review, Moscow/Pullman Daily News and Lewiston Tribune. He has subscriptions to all three newspapers.
“I’ve enjoyed calling in the games because I want to see the kids’ names in the paper,” Bowman said. “Win or lose, I called the scores into the papers. I always gave the papers more information than they needed.”
He’s watched even the simple keeping of a scorebook at high school games taken over by computers. He never learned how to use a computer.
“I’m a pencil, paper and calculator man,” Bowman said.
When he turned over scorekeeping duties in football and basketball, he volunteered to help work the scoreboard clock.
Volunteer is Bowman’s middle name. He serves at the Senior Center twice a week and is a member of Kiwanis. His involvement in Little League – including being an umpire and a coach – goes back to 1958. And he’s been a member of the Methodist Church since 1961.
He’s developed many lifelong friendships along the way.
“I can safely say that there’s nobody who has volunteered more time than Ralph,” retired boys basketball coach Tim Busch, 67, said. “I bet nobody has donated a higher percentage of their net worth than Ralph. Not even (Nike founder) Phil Knight.”
“Wherever we go, Ralph is a celebrity,” Greyhounds baseball coach Lance Lincoln said. “He’s a legend. He’s been my right-hand man.”
There have been dozens of funny stories over the years. There was the time when Hobbs and the football team had a game at Colville and they left Bowman in a phone booth.
Hobbs realized the mistake halfway between Colville and Chewelah. The bus turned around and found Bowman waiting at the phone booth.
There was the time Bowman was left at a restaurant in downtown Spokane when the basketball team, coached then by Hobbs, had a game at West Valley.
It was getting close to game time and Hobbs couldn’t figure out where to find Bowman. He took his team into the locker room for a final chat before tipoff and when he came out there Bowman was standing nearby, wiping sweat from his forehead.
“He had walked all the way from downtown to West Valley,” Hobbs, 84, recalled. “I suppose that’s about 10 miles. He got there just before tipoff.”
“There are a billion Ralph stories,” Busch said. “I think being able to keep the book really gave Ralph an identity, a purpose.”
And he provided a service that area media forever owe a debt of gratitude.
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