Rain or shine, volunteers keep programs afloat
Andy Owens had just spent the first half of a football game doing his best to keep himself, as well as his stat sheet, dry while pacing the sidelines in one of those typical late fall storms that so often seem to plague area prep football games.
Actually, he recalled, the wind was blowing so hard that day at Grant High School it appeared the host Pacers and Nevada Union were playing amidst a horizontal downpour.
So there was NU’s head statistician standing in line to use the restroom, dripping wet and up to his ankles in water that had blown through the bathroom door, when one of his cohorts turned to him.
“The things we do for our kids,” Owens recalled the man saying. “And I said, ‘Hey, I don’t even have a kid out here anymore. I don’t know why I’m out here.'”
Actually he did know why he was there. It was the same reason that he’s been there every time the Miners have hit the field for the past 25 years. It’s probably the same thing that brings them all out, the members of the community that volunteer their time and efforts for the football programs and both Bear River and Nevada Union high schools.
And for all those fans who might envy them from that stands, it’s not just about the up-front view the volunteers get of the action each Friday night. But, hey, that’s not exactly a bad thing either.
Shortly after Owens had arrived as the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Grass Valley in 1979, he learned the man he would replace had kept stats for Marshall Nixon’s Miners.
“He asked me if I’d like to take that over,” said Owens, who grew up in Oklahoma and tries to fly back to Norman each season to take in a Sooners’ game with his son. “I asked him ‘Are you kidding me? I’d love to.’ Of course I had no idea that it was going to turn into 25 years later.”
Owens is quick to point out that he’s not alone as a longtime volunteer on the NU sidelines, noting Dr. John Peek has volunteered as the Miners’ kicking coach (one who once tutored NU’s Zach McSweeney, the record holder for the longest field goal in school history at 59 yards) for nearly the same amount of time.
There are volunteers from seemingly every walk of life coming to the call of the NU program each week, serving as assistant coaches, team doctors or trainers, members of the chain gang and even a team photographer.
“This happens to me every year at our banquet,” said NU coach Dave Humphers. “I seem to always forget to thank someone. There are so many people that do so much for our program. There’s just an amazing level of passion and support, and really enjoyment, for being a part of our program and seeing our young men perform.
“And people like Andy are so passionate and enthusiastic about our kids. Andy has been a tremendous supporter and a great friend to me for years and years.”
Each week through the season, Owens and the stats staff he oversees – that now includes his wife, Mary, and his friend Pete Christenson – observe the game and track each play to compile the game statistics. He then compiles those statistics into a weekly report to present to Humphers and staff, as well as compile ongoing season totals.
“I’m lucky that my wife likes to do this,” Owens said. “We can’t wait to get back out there again. I’m kind of blessed my wife wants to do that with me.”
As important as the reports he provides to the coaching staff may be, anyone close to the program knows that Owens offers much more to the program than the numbers-crunching service he performs through the course of a four-month long season.
As a pastor and as the general manager at Hooper and Weaver Mortuary, Owens’ friendly smile has been a much-needed familiar face in times of crisis and a welcome one in times of celebration for the Nevada Union program, as well as the local community.
He has both married and buried cheerleaders, players, coaches and fans. He officiated the memorial service for legendary Grass Valley and NU coach Art Hooper and also was the pastor who married Humphers and his wife, Doreen.
“There will be greater things to happen in life than winning, and far worse things than losing, a football game,” Owens said. “I think what I enjoy the most working on the sideline is having watched those kids grow up, because I’ve been in the community for so long.
“They’re now firefighters, policemen, doctors, lawyers … you name it. And now I’m getting dangerously close to seeing some of the boys, who played in the early ’80s, now having children coming up in the program and that’s a scary thought.”
Owens saw a boy of his own come up through the program in the late ’80s, as his son Scott was quarterback of the Miners in 1987, and one that earned all-league honors. It was around that time that Owens also helped organize the “Meet the Bruins, Meet the Miners Night,” an annual scrimmage that would help kick off each football season for area fans. He guessed that a crowd of 2,000 people showed up for that first installment. Bear River and Nevada Union plan to return to the same field for a scrimmage on Sept. 3 this season, though Humphers and Bruin coach Scott Savoie said there won’t be a big production in introducing the players and cheerleaders.
Through the 25 years at NU, Owens said all the players and teams somewhat blend together in wonderful memories of championship football. And there have been some not so memorable moments in his tenure of carrying a clipboard, especially when he’s approached by a parent not pleased by the final numbers he’s collected. Sometimes, with the Miners appearing on local cable access television, parents compile their own numbers and take issue with his.
“You know, they’re keeping stats, too,” he said. “People have yelled at me that I didn’t give their kid enough stats through the year. But parents are parents.”
Even such confrontations wouldn’t be enough to push him away from his Friday nights on the field. He said he’s not sure how long he’ll continue in the position, but he does know that walking away won’t be easy. No matter when it happens.
“Dave always tells me ‘I stay as long as you stay,'” Owens said with a smile. “And I was actually going to quit if he had gone to another school. But this year is my 25th year.
“I don’t think I could drive by on a Friday night and see the lights on the football field and not want to be there. I know the football program would get along fine without me. I just don’t know if I could get along without the football program.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
After an atrocious showing in week one of The Union’s Beat The Experts football pick ’em contest, the so-called experts shook off a bit of their rust in week two and put forth a much…