Originally planning just to stay in town for a couple of years when he came as a Lee College student in 1962, Rowan hung around long enough to post 530 victories while directing the boys’ teams at East Cleveland Elementary, Lee and Bradley Central High School before giving up the reins in 1996.
While directing winning hoops, Rowan also reached out into our community in numerous other ways that continue to positively affect thousands of lives.
The Nashville, Ga., farm boy didn’t waste any time helping in the community when he hit town in the early 1960s. As an 18-year-old freshman at Lee, Rowan also taught Sunday School at North Cleveland Church of God, where he is still very involved. “I taught 13- and 14-year-olds for three or four years while I was at Lee,” he related.
During those early summers in town, Rowan also worked with the Cleveland Recreation Department, where along with the late Ralph Rymer he aided with the construction of the Community Center on South Church Street.
“When it came time to finish the athletic fields, we borrowed a Tarver Distributing truck and drove to my home area in south Georgia to get the sod,” he explained.
Rymer and Rowan also organized the Community Center’s first local tee-ball leagues, which became a huge operation.
“I still have people in their 40s and 50s come up to me and tell me they remember playing for us in those tee-ball leagues,” Rowan remarked. “I learned so much about dealing with players, parents and sports philosophy while working with Ralph.”
Rowan also spent several years during the 1970s helping Steve Benton coach the local Hawks 13-14 year-old Dixie Boys team, which won five state titles in six years, finishing second the other season.
“We had tremendous talent come through that team,” he declared. “Guys like Greg Geren, Ted Carson, Ted May, Cooksey Shugart, Wallace Lovelace and others.”
After graduating from Lee in 1966, Rowan also began a couple of side jobs, one of which he continues today and the other he gave up just a few years ago.
While at Lee he got to know local radio legend Corky Whitlock and in 1966 began helping him with his football broadcasts in the fall, by keeping game stats. After six years of helping Whitlock whenever he could, he committed to working the broadcasts every Friday night.
“Corky and I just did our 40th full-time season together last fall and I’m looking forward to No. 41,” Rowan related.
His other part-time job was umpiring, which he began in 1967. “Jim Clark and Roy Ragsdale got me to umpiring at old Fulbright Park and I ended up doing that six nights a week,” remarked Rowan. “I was getting $3 a game back then and thought I was making big money.”
Rowan eventually called everything from youth leagues to high school (including a TSSAA state tournament), to college baseball, giving it up after the 2009 season due to problems with his knees.
After deciding to relinquish his basketball coaching duties at Bradley Central in 1996, Rowan took a different seat on the Bear sideline.
“Joe Adams had run the score clock for years and he moved to Georgia, so when I stepped down Turner (Jackson, the BCHS athletic director) asked if I wanted to take over running the scoreboard,” he related.
“I was planning on still coming to the games, so why not do it from the best seat in the house (at midcourt)?” He still does the vast majority of the Bradley home games to this day.
Rowan has worn many hats in six decades on the local sports scene, including a summer as sports editor for the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“In 1980, Cleveland State had a great baseball team and went to the junior college World Series,” Rowan related. “Evidently there was some controversy with (former publisher) Goldie (Wattenbarger) not allowing anyone to go to Colorado to cover the tournament and the entire sports staff ended up leaving (the Banner).”
“Beecher Hunter (the Banner editor at the time) called me and asked if I would help them out for a while until they could get a new staff hired,” he continued. “I was coaching at Lee, but it was summertime and Kinny Hooper was in from Ole Miss for summer break, so we agreed to help out.”
“I had some journalism classes in high school and college, so Kinny and I would write the stories but neither of us had any clue about design or how to lay out pages,” remarked Rowan. “Rick Norton (the current Banner editor, who was then the assistant managing editor) bailed me out by laying out the pages for us.”
While pairing with many legendary local sports personalities over the years, Rowan’s greatest collaboration came in the mid-1980s.
Longtime friend and mentor Dale Hughes was serving as the BCHS principal and had convinced Rowan to take over the Bear basketball program in 1982. It was also around that time that Hughes decided to do a little match-making for his bachelor friend.
“Dale knew this pretty girl who had moved to Cleveland a few years before and he thought I should meet her,” Rowan explained. “Kathy (Shankle) had been a cheerleader at Lee while I was coaching at East Cleveland and she had moved back to town and was teaching at E.L. Ross (Elementary). He introduced us but I was seeing someone at the time.”
“About a year and a half later, after that relationship ended, I got to thinking about her (Kathy). I was always going to (Tennessee) Vol football games, so I invited her to go with me,” he continued. “She turned me down, but she did leave the door open by saying maybe we could do something a couple of weeks later.
“In mid-September of 1984 we met at Shoney’s for a meal to get to know each other. We married a year and a half later (December 1985),” stated Rowan. “Kathy’s dad was a Church of God pastor and we actually went to North Cleveland together for a few years but our paths did cross for a long time.”
Married for more than 26 years, the couple have many shared interests — teaching, traveling and sports — but there was one fly in the ointment from the beginning.
“Kathy told me right off, ‘I love the (Cleveland High) Blue Raiders (Bradley’s archrival),’ but she said she’d be willing to become a Bear basketball fan since I was coaching them,” Rowan laughed.
Dr. Kathy Shankle-Rowan retired a year ago after 34 years of working in various responsibilities in the Cleveland City Schools, including eight years as an assistant principal at Cleveland Middle before becoming principal of the Teen Learning Center. She was also the system’s first director of Coordinated School Health.
“Kathy has been very supportive throughout my coaching career,” Rowan remarked. “She wanted to do her part and used to keep game stats for me from the stands.”
Although the couple doesn’t have children, they have always considered their students as “their kids.” “We got married late (Rowan was 41) and we’ve always been involved with young people, so we felt like they were our children,” he stated. “Plus we have a very energetic 2-year-old kitty named C.C. who brings us much joy. We consider him ‘our boy.’”
Very active in numerous outreach efforts, including being a part of a “visitation team” through their church that ministers to those in nursing homes or who can’t get out to church services, plus Kathy singing in the Crusader Choir, the couple are very thankful for the way the Lord has opened the doors to allow them to minister to others throughout their lives.
“We have learned to be patient and let Him give us the opportunities where we can be a benefit,” Rowan declared.
While Rowan is a man who is constantly on the go, a couple of years ago he had to slow down for a few months.
“In the summer of 2010, I went to Dr. Stephen Jackson and was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but it was in the very early stages,” he explained. “It needed immediate attention, so for three months in the fall and winter of 2010-11, I went every day to Dr. Lisa Virostek’s office for radiation treatments.”
Rowan said during his treatments he got a lot of encouragement from a dear friend and fellow coach, Bill “Chief” Robertson, who passed away in April 2011, from colon and stomach cancer.
“He was one of the first people I talked to about it. He told me he had beaten it (prostate cancer) 18 years before, and I could too,” Rowan recalled. “We formed our own little support group and ate lunch together every day. Even though you could tell his health was going down, he’d always tell me, ‘You can beat this.’”
Rowan just recently went for one of his six-month checkups and had three scans that all came back negative.
Back to his normal busy agenda, Rowan also recently returned from an annual school trip to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. This year’s 10-day tour included a group of 51 people.
“We go every year. I love those trips,” he remarked. “Kathy and I have also gone out West a few times and even got to spend a couple of weeks in the Dakotas back in the late ’90s. We go to South Georgia and Florida two or three times a year to see my family.”
Rowan has been inducted into the Lee University Sports (2007) and Bradley Central Bears (2011) hall of fames, plus was given the Distinguished Service Award by the Tennessee State Athletic Directors Association in 2007. He was also selected as the 2009 Bradley County Secondary Schools Teacher of the Year.
After 39 years in the Bradley County Schools system, the 68-year-old Rowan will begin a new chapter this fall.
“It’s not really retiring because I’m still going to be teaching two classes a day,” he related. “It’s a program where teachers who have their time in to retire can go ahead and start drawing that, but then they are hired back on in a part-time capacity. They pair you with another teacher who is doing the same thing — I’m going to teach the first two periods each day and Jerrie Best is going to teach the last two. It allows the school to hire another full-time teacher.”
“The Lord has blessed me with good health and I still have an enthusiasm and desire to be in a Bradley Central classroom,” proclaimed Rowan. “My main goal growing up was to be a U.S. history teacher and I still love doing that.”
Whether in the classroom, on the ball field or around the basketball court, at church or on a tour bus trip, Rowan’s impact on the Bradley County community can’t be fully measured, but without a doubt is felt and appreciated by the thousands of lives he has touched in such a positive way.