One of the original varsity coaches of College Park High School is moving on to the next phase of his career in education.
John Owens, the founding boys soccer coach when the school opened in 2005, is set to become an assistant principal at Willis High School this coming school year.
Owens said he remembers fondly when the Cavaliers athletic program was coming together at the school and how then head football coach and campus athletic coordinator Richard Carson took a chance on a young coach.
Owens built the program from scratch and that crescendo was reached in 2019 when the Cavaliers advanced through the Class 6A bracket to the state tournament in Round Rock.
“I remember when the building first opened, we didn’t even have any soccer balls,” Owens said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I had approached our tennis coach and rounded up some old tennis balls that he had and that’s what we were practicing with. We were so eager to get things started that that’s where it was. Then it all built up to that great season (last year).”
Overall, Owens led College Park to the playoffs 10 times. The 2019 season was the first time the program ever advanced beyond the area round.
The Cavaliers beat Aldine Eisenhower, Cypress Ranch, Pflugerville Hendrickson, Allen and Aldine before falling to San Antonio LEE in the state semifinals.
“I kind of felt like that 2019 season just went on and on,” Owens said. “I’m really, really proud of what we did and that group and the special people that they are — it was built on the backs of everybody’s effort going back to 2005. I think we established a great identity of who we are. I think we treated people the right way and that’s what made it all worthwhile.”
A disappointing aspect for College Park was how the 2020 season ended abruptly back in March due to COVID-19. Those seniors, and now Owens, never got a proper conclusion to their careers.
The Cavaliers were 9-6-3 overall and fighting for a playoff spot in District 15-6A. They unknowingly played their last game of the season on March 6 as they had their bye on March 10 when their district counterparts all played.
Owens, a Pittsburgh native who moved to The Woodlands during his youth, was just getting his career and adult life started 15 years ago when the College Park job was afforded to him.
He had just married his wife Ellen and his children Ty, Ben and Samantha have grown up around the school.
“It’s the building, it’s the people, it’s the memories,” Owens said. “All the things there. When I arrived at College Park, I had just got married literally the month before I started work. My family has grown up around College Park. My professional career has really taken off since I got there. My kids have grown up running through the halls of that school. It’s what we’ve always known. Leaving that behind was an extremely tough decision for us.”
Owens graduated from Texas A&M and student taught while in College Station at A&M Consolidated.
From there, he caught on at Kingwood as an assistant under Kevin Johnson and the 2005 Mustangs reached the state championship that spring before falling to Klein.
The College Park opportunity came along as the fourth Conroe ISD school was set to open that fall.
“I was 25 years old,” Owens recalled. “I think I was one of the youngest head coaches in the state, probably in any sport. I recognized that I got a pretty rare opportunity.”
Beyond his role as a soccer coach, Owens taught economics, government, world geography and teen leadership while at College Park.
He also made it a point to get involved with school activities beyond the classroom and the soccer field.
Owens became the public address announcer for the College Park Cavaliers varsity football team where he estimates that he only missed three games total. He also announced Cavaliers basketball, baseball and wrestling tournaments a few times.
Owens has also read the names of every single graduate in the school’s history during the annual school commencement.
“An important message for young teachers and young coaches is to get involved in the school unilaterally,” Owens explained. “Become a part of the culture at that school. For me it was really important to me more than a coach of one sport. That was the great thing about College Park when it opened. There was a small group of us that said that we have this once in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a school culture of who we are and to establish that.”
While in the early years of his coaching and teaching career with College Park, Owens started working towards his Masters in Education Administration through Lamar University.
At the time, Owens, along with then-tennis coach Henry Garza and cross country and track coach Mike Gibson, made a pact of sorts to further their education work towards the bigger goal the field.
Owens earned his Masters in 2011, but still had many things in the classroom and in coaching he wanted to accomplish before moving on.
He recently had a conversation with one of his mentors, College Park assistant principal Danny Johnson, about taking the next step.
“He’s been an unbelievable mentor to me,” Owens said. “He pulled me aside recently and said, ‘John, it’s time’. That’s probably what I needed. Then I began to see things a little bit differently.”
Owens found the perfect situation in Willis High School. Owens admitted he needed to add more purple to his wardrobe, but more importantly we won’t need to uproot his family. He’ll also still be able to continue seeing colleagues at College Park often as Willis jumped up to Class 6A this school year and will play the Cavaliers in every sport.
“It kind of fit in perfectly,” Owens said. “It felt like a really get fit. Principal (Stephanie) Hodgins at Willis High School is an amazing person. We’ve had some great conversations and she made me feel extremely comfortable about changing to this new role, new school and new culture to become a part of. I’m looking for it.”
It will be tough to put away his whistle and hangup his soccer shoes though.
On game days, Owens was known for his shirt, tie and slacks combination — which you rarely see a soccer coach wear at the high school level. Nearly from day one, a tradition Owens also maintained with his teams were the physical hand shake, chest bump or hug that his players would receive after running towards the sideline after a goal scored. Those always made for great photographs.
“When it comes down to it, it’s all about the kids,” Owens said. “That’s why we do it. When the announcement (of my departure) started going out this morning and people starting getting word, what’s really touched me is they have texted me of pictures of me with them. I still kind of get choked up looking at them when they send them to me.”
Owens gets most of his joy beyond the wins and accomplishments on the field when he hears from former players and how well they are doing in life as husbands, fathers, friends and in their professional realm.
“The success is great and it was so much fun,” Owens said. “Even when we were losing games, I think we were winning with people.”