Ted Owens Stays Busy with New Book
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
RUNNING THE RACE: The author Ted Owens with Jono Helmerich at a recent Tulsa Sports Charities luncheon at the Tulsa Southern Hills Marriott, where Owens was the featured speaker.
Over the course of the last three, four years, Ted Owens was frequently writing himself notes.
A childhood memory. Owens committed it to paper.
A few words recalled from a coaching mentor, Owens reached for a pen.
If a thought crossed his mind, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the night, Owens filed it.
A basketball win on the road, a loss at home. Reminders of games played, of players coached.
A written note for every recollection.
“A short pencil is better than a long memory,” he said.
Owens was collecting and chronicling stories from his past.
He was compiling a personal history for his children, for his grandchildren. Not so much for public consumption but for family legacy.
It was a story 84 years in the making. A story that covered his youth in the cotton fields of Southwestern Oklahoma and his migration to the basketball courts of America.
Ted Owens, coach and legend, was adding another dimension: author.
When he had collected, sorted, arranged and crafted his thoughts into a manuscript, Owens was sitting on a stack of paper filled with some 115,000 words.
An editor in Kansas City balked, trimming some 20,000 words or so, from Owens’ colorful life.
“Were my stories too long? Not too good?” a disheartened Owens asked of the editor.
“Both,” came the reply.
For Ted Owens, a Hall of Fame basketball coach, that was his introduction to Writing 101.
Since the first printed page sprang from Guggenheim’s press, the disagreement between writer and editor has been surpassed only by the difference of opinion between player and coach.
But what is left of Ted Owens’ life in those 90,000 or so words, is completely and compellingly choice.
The 272-page hard-cover “At the Hang-Up,” published by Ascend Books, is a treasure trove of life lessons, basketball anecdotes, successes and failures, humor and pathos.
The title of the book, Owens said, comes from his days in the cotton fields.
“At the end of each day on the farm, we would measure the total weight of the cotton we had pulled,” he said. “We called it the ‘hang-up.’
One day, in a competition to see who could pull the most cotton, Owens was leading his father, Homer, who then gave him the greatest life lesson: “It’s not what you have now that is important, it’s what you have at the hang-up.”
Homer Owens always reminded Ted that regardless of your station in life, whether encountering difficulties or enjoying success, you should never lose sight of your ultimate goals.
“All of us had a lot of dreams. My dreams were about getting off that farm,” Owens said.
Sports provided that escape.
Owens participated in football and basketball at Hollis, in Harmon County in far Southwestern Oklahoma.
A University of Oklahoma assistant coach, Bill Jennings, was dispatched to Hollis in 1947 to recruit a pair of football standouts, including future star Leon Manley.
Hollis coach Joe Bailey Metcalf convinced Jennings to offer Owens a scholarship, too.
Owens, tall and skinny, was given a partial scholarship. He worked as a student fireman and a grocery delivery boy to pay for his room and board.
During student orientation, Owens stopped by the OU Field House to shoot some two-handed set shots. He caught the attention of Shockey Needy, Drake’s assistant coach. Needy told Owens that the OU coaches had seen him play in the state tournament and hoped that he would come out for the basketball team.
Needy told Owens that Drake could talk to the football coaches and see if that partial scholarship could be transferred to basketball.
“It would make a better story to tell you the football coaches fought to keep me,” Owens said. “But they had what they wanted (the two football players from Hollis). That’s how I ended up playing basketball at Oklahoma.”
From there, Owens moved to Lawton as head baseball and head basketball coach at Cameron College, a two-year school that is now a university.
It was at Cameron in the 1957-58 school year that Owens enjoyed one of his career highlights, even if it is not widely remembered.
He pulled together, in his words, “a rag-tag bunch” of baseballers and won the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
It was a team, he recalls with a smile, that had no baseball diamond, no uniforms and no schedule. But it was a team with grit, with determination, he said, a team that won the first national junior college baseball championship.
Still, Owens is best remembered for coaching basketball at the University of Kansas. In his 19 seasons with the Jayhawks, he made two Final Four appearances. He also coached at Oral Roberts University for two seasons, 1985-86 and 1986-87.
He won more than 350 major college basketball games and accumulated a passel of national coaching awards.
He has been inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
And now, he has added “author” to his resume.
“There is a joy and a sense of accomplishment” at completing the four-year writing journey, he said. “And relief.”
He has agreed to take his book on tour, scheduling more than a dozen signing appearances from Lawrence, Kan., to Hollis, Okla.
On Oct. 28, he will speak and sign books at the Tulsa Press Club.
Owens, soft-spoken and athletically trim, enjoyed the writing process so much, he said, that he is planning a follow-up book, one that focuses on his personal beliefs.
No doubt the next couple of years will be filled with more note-taking, more memories revisited.