LHS coaching debut everything Clint Bowen hoped it would be and more
First-year Lawrence High football coach Clint Bowen had thought about Thursday night a thousand times since being hired to take over the program back in February.
But he never envisioned a family reunion being a part of his first game as the head coach of the Lions.
Yet there they were, Bowens everywhere, at LHS during the Lions’ 28-7 season-opening victory over Olathe East on Thursday night.
It might not have taken place at the same fabled field that Bowen and his brother and dad played on. And the landscape of high school football in this town may be vastly different today than it was back in those days, when LHS was the only game in town and every young kid in the city limits grew up wanting to wear red and black.
But that did nothing to take away the nostalgia Bowen felt during his debut.
“Out of nowhere, I saw my dad outside of the men’s restroom during our pregame warm-up,” Bowen said after the victory. “When I ran over to him and hugged him, he said, ‘I used to practice right here. It looked a lot different then.’
“For him to be there and me and him to kind of stand there for a second and talk about a place that means a lot to him and our family, that was kind of emotional.”
The emotions only surged from there.
During the game, it was all about football. Bowen has done that part hundreds of times.
But when it was over, when he hugged his older brother Charley or got to celebrate with his own son, Baylor, who scored the Lions’ first touchdown of the season, memories of the old school Lions and the coaches both he and his brother and father played came flooding back.
Now his son has one of his own. And that whole connection took something that was already special to Bowen and elevated it to a level he never imagined it could reach.
“It was pretty special,” Bowen said. “You know, your own son runs off and you get to high five him and also yell at him about ball protection, it was pretty fun.”
Even though his time as a Lion is just beginning, Bowen said he believed Baylor understood what the night meant to the three older Bowen men in his family.
“He’s heard us tell our stories throughout the years,” Bowen said with a laugh. “He understands what this place represents, and, when we came back, he was excited to be a part of it.”
Thursday night was a tone-setter of sorts. And not just because the Lions won.
It was a night of firsts. New uniforms. New helmets. New pregame ritual. All of it looking strikingly similar to those good-old days. Anyone who has paid attention to LHS football for the past four or five decades surely recognized it.
“I grew up going to LHS games at Haskell Stadium and I knew, there was no doubt, I was going to play Lawrence High football,” Bowen said.
Now he wants other young people in Lawrence to look at him and his son and his teams and have that same desire.
In order to do that, Bowen knows he has to tread lightly, making sure to honor days gone by while staying relevant with the world he lives in — and coaches in — today.
“I’m in kind of a battle with the old timers,” Bowen said. “You know, we have our traditions, like the stripe on the helmet and the uniforms and things we’re never going to change. But at the same time, we’ve got to step across the line and make all of this cool for the younger kids, too. So there’s a balancing act.”
Baylor can help bridge the gap. And together, at least for one year, the two will be able to lay the foundation for what the future of LHS football will look like.
Bowen’s youngest son, Banks, will have three more years to be a part of the tradition. And the hope of all of the Bowens who were on hand on Thursday night is that there will be a lot more victories in the future.
After all, if you’re talking LHS traditions, winning is probably the first and most important one that comes to most minds.
That’s why the outcome meant so much on Thursday night. Sure, even in a loss, all of those same emotions would have been there, and the family one day would have reflected back on the night as one heck of a memory.
But the win made it mean more. It made it seem right.
“That’s absolutely fair,” Bowen said. “You have to win this game. And we got it done.”