The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News 2

June 11, 2014

LIMESTONE COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Owens meets all criteria

— The Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame inducts members that have excelled as a player, coach, official or contributed in a supporting role. One of the 2014 inductees, Billy Owens, will be inducted into the Hall Saturday for a body of work meeting all these categories.

A native of Glasgow, Kentucky, Owens moved to Limestone County in 1976 after receiving a basketball scholarship to Athens State University. After spending a year playing junior college ball in Tampa, Florida, Owens was convinced by his former teammates to visit Athens State, an emerging NAIA school.

“It was one of the top NAIA schools in the South at the time,” Owens said. “The guys I played with as a freshman (in Tampa) decided to go play at Athens State. I didn’t know a thing about it until I came down and tried out. They signed me that day.”

Owens transferred from Eastern Kentucky University, where he spent his sophomore season as a shooting guard. At Athens State, the Kentucky native was convinced to join the baseball team where several of his basketball teammates already played.

“We were successful in baseball, too. It probably ended up being as good a sport for me as basketball,” Owens said. “We had three or four guys on the basketball team that played baseball and they ask me to play. I loved it. I loved every minute of it.”

Although Owens played baseball for the Bears for three years, his true talent was on the hard-court where he helped ASU reach the regional tournament during his junior and senior seasons.

“My senior year we went to Birmingham Southern to play in the regional finals,” said Owens. “The winner of that game would have advanced to nationals in Kansas. We lost that game by 2 points.”

Owens has a vivid memory of that game and many others throughout his career. Following that final game at ASU, he was offered a job coaching Athens Bible School, which had recently won a state championship in basketball.

“They had just won state in 1976, so I inherited some good players,” said Owens. “I was 21 years old coaching 18-year-old kids. I had to separate myself because I was just a little bit older. But I had a good background, playing for coach Belcher and coach Murrell. I was able to run some of the same offenses and defenses we ran at Athens State.”

As a young basketball coach, Owens got his feet wet at the private school before moving to West Limestone High School, where he taught physical education and coached basketball for the Wildcats before moving to Tanner in 1984.

“When Tanner called, I had to go. I had been watching them for years and knew the talent was there to make a run. But I hated to leave those kids,” said Owens about his time at West. “They turned out to be really good players. Now their kids are playing at West Limestone.”

Tanner turned out to be Owens’ final coaching stop. Under his direction, the Rattlers won the school’s first basketball state championship in 1986. More than 25 years ago, Owens remembers that team as if it were yesterday.

“That ’86 team was special,” said Owens. “We knew we would be pretty good that year. We lost to East Limestone early in the season and didn’t lose another game after that.”

In 1991, Owens moved into an administration role at Tanner and assumed the role as athletic director. With Owens at the helm, Tanner won six additional state championships following that first one in 1986.

“I have no regrets, but I would have loved to coach about 10 more years,” said Owens. “I wouldn’t change anything, but I really wasn’t ready to get out of coaching when I did. I hope the influence I’ve had in the office was more than I could have in the gym.”

In addition to his playing and coaching accomplishments, Owens has served as the Limestone County Basketball Tournament director for the past 19 years and as a high school baseball umpire for more than 30 years.

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Local News 2
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