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Even before the organizers of Howard's Christmas high school basketball tournament had discussed teams to fill the brackets, the most appropriate decision made was to name the event in honor of Henry Bowles.

There are very few schools in our area where if you played name association, only one person's face is immediately identifiable. For me, Brainerd instantly brings to mind Robert High, East Ridge is Catherine Neely, Notre Dame is Jim Phifer and Red Bank is Tom Weathers.

Even though it's been 12 years since he coached the Hustlin' Tigers, whenever I hear Howard mentioned, the image of Coach Bowles, wearing his trademark burgundy sport coat, instantly comes to mind. His presence remains through the memories of the men he coached and those who competed against him.

"What I think of when someone mentions Henry Bowles is, he was a fierce competitor but always a gentleman," Baylor coach Austin Clark said. "He was someone who was more than a coach; he was a molder of young men."

That is what makes next week's holiday tournament being held in the gym that also bears Bowles' name so special. Inside the gym are framed jerseys of past players such as Reggie White, Johnny Taylor and Terdell Sands, all of whom went on to attain some degree of celebrity through their athletic abilities.

Although they played in different eras, they all played for Bowles.

There were times I caught myself watching an animated Coach Bowles work the sideline more than the game on the court. Whether he was yelling at referees, his own players or even a heckler sitting behind him in the stands, Bowles rarely tolerated anyone doing things in any other way besides his. During one home game, after a Howard player turned the ball over on an ill-advised pass, Bowles turned to the stands behind him, threw up his arms and asked, "Can anybody tell me why we do that kind of stuff?"

Bowles began coaching at Howard on a one-year interim agreement in 1969, 10 years after he began teaching there. During the years before he took over the boys' basketball program, he coached the track team to a state title despite having just eight athletes. He also coached baseball, football, cross country and softball and was for a while the school's athletic director.

But it was in basketball where he became a local legend and earned his place in the TSSAA Hall of Fame. In 29 years of coaching basketball at his alma mater, he compiled a 616-260 overall record. His Tigers qualified for the state tournament 16 times and twice were runners-up. He won 13 district championships, including a 62-game district winning streak in the 1980s, and claimed 10 region titles. He won 30-plus games in a season four times.

"Howard basketball was made better for having him as our coach," said Dank Hawkins, who played point guard for the Hustlin' Tigers from 1973 to '76 and helped organize the tournament. "Besides my father, Coach Bowles was a personal role model for me. He was so structured and disciplined, exactly what most young men need.

"God chooses some people for certain jobs. [Coach Bowles] was chosen to coach."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

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