Bill Bowers has viewed the Talawanda High School football program from both the huddle and the sideline as the school’s first quarterback in its history and as the only former Talawanda player to return as head coach.
He was forced into action at quarterback as a freshman in the last season of Stewart High School and took over that position for the Talawanda Braves when the school opened the next year, 1956.
He moved into the varsity quarterbacking job at Stewart as a freshman due to an injury and position shuffling in 1955 and it was not an easy start to a career.
“I was out there with my teeth chattering and my knees knocking,” Bowers jokes today. “I was all of 147 pounds.”
He survived that year and then started for the Braves as they went 26-2 in the first three years of the school’s existence under coach John Trump, who coached the team for five years. The head coaching job then went to Marvin Wilhelm for six years after he had served two as an assistant. By the time Wilhelm decided to give up the post, Bowers had been his assistant for two years and had served as an assistant at Morehead State University in Kentucky for two years.
Back home in Oxford and teaching math as his father, Lawrence Bowers had done at Talawanda, Bill Bowers took over the head coaching job for the 1967 season and stayed for 11 years, equaling the total of both of his predecessors combined. Wilhelm moved to the school’s principal’s office and Trump to get his doctor’s degree and teach education at Miami University.
Bowers coached Talawanda from 1967 to 1977, with a record 51-56-3. His tenure included a Mid-Miami League championship in 1973, with a 9-1 record, and a co-championship in 1972, with a 7-2-1 mark. His most disappointing season was 1975 when the Braves were 0-9-1.
“We had some good teams and some not-so-good teams,” Bowers said of his coaching tenure with the Braves. “We had a tie in a game one year (1975), when our most effective player was our punter.”
His first team started with a lot of promise but injuries played a role and a comeback gave Talawanda a winning record.
“We had five wins in a row, but both our quarterback and split end got hurt in the sixth game. We lost four in a row,” he recalled. “Then, they came back and Stu Eversole threw to Tom Spenceley and we finished 6-4.”
There were some coaching highlights that have stayed with him since his retirement from coaching. One that stands out involves a strong Monroe team.
“They came here undefeated and we ambushed ‘em. That night we put in a spread offense just for that game secretly and they could not adjust to it. We were up 21-0 at halftime,” Bowers said. “We hung on to win but the clock ran out just in time. They outmanned us that night. They were nice about it and congratulated us.”
His final game as head coach had a similar scenario with a powerful Lakota High School team.
“Tom Lindsey was our quarterback and the game was not on Bowers Field,” he said. “It was the same way. We were up three touchdowns and had to hang on. It was the last game I coached. We ambushed ‘em that night. We used a different defense and they had not worked against it. We caught them by surprise. They adjusted and came roaring back but we hung on.”
There were no staff positions in those days to provide maintenance on the field, so coaches were responsible for lining the field. Bowers recalled a time when Hamilton Taft arrived to play a game and found him in old, dirty clothes doing that job and asked where their lockerroom was. He opened the gate to let in their bus and then unlocked the room for them to change.
“They did not know who I was, with lime all over me,” Bowers laughed. “And to add insult to injury, we beat ‘em that night.”
Talwanda was renamed Bowers Field in honor of Bill Bowers’ father, Lawrence Bowers, who had coached every sport at Stewart and was athletic director at Talawanda in its early years, also coaching several sports. Naming the field for him was a pet project of the school’s first coach, John Trump, who had coached with him at Stewart.
His son says his father appreciated the honor but did not dwell on it.
“He was the type of person who said, ‘they shouldn’t do that,’ but he was pleased and gratified that they did it,” Bill Bowers said.
The early years saw a lot of growth in the Talawanda sports program with some gifted athletes making contributions, but there were some unusual moments, too.
Bowers recalled a day when Cleve Rome, one of the school’s most gifted athletes played in a baseball game and also ran track.
“He ran the 100 yards one day in his baseball uniform, and won,” Bowers laughed, recalling that Rome had left the baseball game between innings to take part in the track meet at the adjacent football field.
One of the lesser-light moments that brings a laugh today is when Joe Pyfrin, now the pressbox announcer, was an assistant football coach.
“We wanted the punter to kick it out of bounds near the goal line and not into the endzone,” Bowers said. “Joe yelled ‘Kick it out of bounds. Kick it out of bounds,’ and the punter turned square to the sideline and kicked it out right there.”
Bowers was part of the early success for the Braves on the field playing those first two years on Miami’s Bunger Field with no stands, lights, clock or scoreboard but with the perspective of a player opponents wanted to knock to the ground, he fondly added, “Bunger Field had soft grass. It’s too bad it was not a stadium.”
His senior year was the first for Talawanda playing on its own field, but still without lights so that all home games had to be played on Friday afternoons, something other teams did not like.
Eventually the home field added lights and a pressbox.
“I helped on the labor for the pressbox,” he recalled. “I carried some hod down there. It was one of the nicest pressboxes in the area. It still is!”
Although the field had lights, they were not covered and bulbs often popped, particularly when it rained on game nights, but they would go out during the week, too.
“I remember Leroy McCann was a lineman, an electric lineman, and every week, he would climb the poles to replace bulbs that had broken during the week,” Bowers said. “The poles on one side are 90 feet high and no else could do it.”
The football team also had help from other sources, including much-appreciated donations of equipment.
“(Miami head coach) Bill Mallory was really good to us, giving us equipment,” Bowers said. “He gave us a second set of jerseys one night when it was very hot, so we had fresh uniforms for the second half.”
He praised the contributions of Howard Kirkpatrick, Bill Hoover and Frank Dodd, all of Capital Varsity, who often donated used and reconditioned equipment to the Talawanda football program.
“They kept us in equipment,” he said.
The Talawanda football program was successful early in its existence and it was real community effort that made it that way.