The late George Carlin asked a great question.
“Have you ever started a path?” he asked. “No one seems willing to do this. We don’t mind using existing paths, but we rarely start new ones. Do it today. Start a path. Even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.”
It takes a special kind of person to start a path, to be a trailblazer.
It takes a tremendous sense of inner direction to chart a new path, a keen willingness to find a route around those unknown obstacles that crop up because paths rarely go in a straight line. They are known as pathFINDERS, after all.
John Owen has always been a pathfinder in the sport of amateur wrestling, blazing a clear trail for many to follow throughout the Inland Northwest.
His passion for the sport has always been worn on his sleeve, but at the same time he has always been a servant to the sport. You will not find a more passionate, more dedicated servant to any sport.
Owen had an impressive resume before he ever set foot in the Central Valley wrestling room. He coached eight national championship teams in 20 years at North Idaho College, posting an incredible record of 304 wins, 23 losses and two draws in dual matches, coaching 35 national champions and 102 All-Americans. He was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1989.
But John Owen never hit you with his resume.
I had the privilege of watching him work a wrestling room on a number of occasions at CV and during a brief stay at West Valley. When you walked into the room during a practice, you were almost guaranteed to find Owen on the mat demonstrating a hold or helping a wrestler fine-tune technique because he was first, last and always a teacher.
Whether you knew his win-loss record or not, you immediately respected what he had to say and how he said it. He taught with a sense of urgency, to be sure, but always with a sense of respect for his sport and all who took it up.
His coaching and teaching style was always the same: fatherly.
If you spent any time with John Owen, you immediately understood why he retired from NIC. His son, Tommy, was wrestling at University High and the father wanted to devote his time to enjoying his son’s wrestling career.
It was the same with his youngest son, Brian.
In fact, I witnessed the best testament to John Owen’s career as a wrestling coach during his time at West Valley.
It was July 2008 – just days after Owen had been hired to coach the Eagles. Never one to indulge in idle time when it came to the sport of wrestling, he quickly put together a clinic.
The clinic drew a healthy turnout – some youngsters anxious to take up the sport, others high school athletes getting a jump-start with the program.
Tommy Owen was off working as an assistant college coach, but Brian, on a break from wrestling at Boise State, was there to help teach the little kids.
Watching Brian Owen teach the sport was like watching an old family movie of his father. The same gentle, firm tones, the same infinite patience with anyone willing to learn the sport.
John Owen was always happy to talk about his sport with anyone and everyone. He was always the teacher, and you always left a conversation with him with a new nugget of information about the sport you didn’t have before.
My hunch is that you can continue to have those kinds of conversations. But from now on you will need to bring a fly rod and join the coach wherever the fish are biting.
There’s a tradition when wrestlers retire; they take off their shoes and leave them in the middle of the mat after their final match – walking off and signaling that they have fought their final battle.
For coaches, it’s different. In Owen’s case, he simply turned in his whistle as the head wrestling coach at Central Valley following the conclusion of one last season.
CV will find another head coach, of course. But whoever it is will be hard pressed to fill John Owen’s shoes.
And while John Owen has walked off the mat for the final time, he’s left the sport in good hands. His former wrestlers, many of whom have joined the coaching ranks over the years, will keep the trail blazing bright for more generations to follow.
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