In 1980, Scott Gowan graduated from Liberty County High School as a four-year letterman in football, basketball, and track and field. Following his Chipola College experience in Marianna, Gowan became a walk-on receiver on the Florida State football team in 1983.
As he jokingly put it, “I practiced as much as anybody,” before earning his physical education degree in 1985, along with being certified to teach general math and science, grades 5 through 9.
Little did Gowan realize that during the next 36 years, he would earn numerous awards as a track and field and cross country coach, including induction into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2016.
Gowan was recently notified that he will be inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame this September.
Port St. Joe can proudly claim this Hall of Fame coach as one of its own, since he took his first job here in 1986, building his legacy over the next 13 years.
Besides teaching middle school math and science, Gowan served as an assistant coach in football for four years, middle school boys basketball coach for nine years, varsity boys track and field coach for 13 years, and varsity boys cross country coach for 11 years.
Gowan still cherishes his time as a Shark. “I want thank everybody in Port St. Joe for bringing me in and making me feel like family,” he said.
One of his many memories occurred while coaching both football and cross country happened Nov. 10, 1989, when he was on the sidelines helping coach the football team to the district championship in a 26-6 win over Jefferson County.
The very next morning at 8 a.m., Coach Gowan traded his football cleats for cross country shoes as he guided his runners to the District 1-2A meet title over Marianna by a one-point margin.
The Shark football team ultimately finished as state runner-up and the cross- country team qualified for their first-ever state meet, placing 13th overall.
It was in track and field, however, that Gowan left his biggest footprint as his teams won six consecutive state titles from 1994 to 1999, two regional titles, and eight district titles.
In addition, his 1997 cross-country team raced their way to a state championship after finishing as the state runner-up in 1996.
When asked why he chose Port St. Joe for his first job after college, Gowan noted that “Port St. Joe had a successful athletic program. I had visited Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach growing up and had some relatives (cousins) here.”
In fact, Sheriff Tommy Ford of Bay County is one of his distant cousins.
Following his interview with Principal Edwin G. Williams, School Superintendent Walter Wilder, and Athletic Director/Football Coach Phil Lanford, Gowan was offered the job in the summer of 1986.
Gowan had kind words to say about such community leaders as school board members Charlotte Pierce and James Hanlon, who were “very supportive,” county commissioner Warren Yeager, and “our biggest supporter” Jim McNeill.
Gowan pointed out that “my family – my father and mother as well as my two brothers and sister – were big supporters of the team,” and that his father “designed all the state champion t-shirts that I gave to the boys. His best ever was after we had won our third title.”
A good coach never forgets the players who help him or her become successful, and Gowan recalls several Sharks who made a lasting impact on him.
Leonard Ray became Port St. Joe’s first ever individual state track and field champion in 1989, throwing the shotput. “Leonard would (later) sign a scholarship and play football for Coach Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville.”
In 1998, Rod Givens ran his way into Shark history by becoming the school’s first state cross country champion. “Rod also won the Florida Class 2-A state cross-country athlete of the year as well as the triple crown of distance running – cross-country, 1600 meters, and 3200 meters.”
Givens, who became a member of the FAMU cross country and track and field teams, “was the best distance runner I ever coached” while at Port St. Joe, said Gowan.
Another local talent for whom Gowan has fond memories is current Shark track and field and cross country coach Keion McNair. “He was a seventh grader when we won the first title in 1994,” and would go on to be a vital member of “all six state champion teams from grade 7 to 12.”
“Keion was also a member of the 1997 cross-country state championship team,” said Gowan. “I am very proud that one of my former athletes is now in charge of the program that I used to coach.”
McNair has similar positive memories, sharing that his former coach “was the biggest motivator” and that Gowan was always well organized with a good plan.
Gowan went on to say that he wanted to thank “all of the boys who I had the opportunity to work with in my 13 years at Port St. Joe. Without them and the support from their parents I would not have received” any Hall of Fame honors.
“They spent many hours at the track practicing,” and even “gave up their spring break each season so they would be ready” for the next meet, Gowan said. “Our boys were not afraid of competition. The bigger the meet or the school, the better they performed.”
“They made the state track and field meet look like their home meet. They were a lot of fun to coach and even more fun to watch compete,” added Gowan.
Besides the players, the Hall of Fame coach remembers “the entire community… they were great to me and our boys teams during my time there.”
“I will always remember the welcoming crew waiting for us at the school when we would arrive back in town” after the state finals, he said. “They would have signs and posters as well as a police escort through town for us. The boys loved this.”
Gowan left Port St. Joe in 1999 to take a job in the physical education department at the new Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, where he was head coach of boys and girls cross country and track and field teams for the next 17 years.
Success continued for his teams, as they won a combined 11 state titles as well as 19 regional and an astounding 44 district titles.
In 2016, Gowan took a job as a phys ed teacher at Augusta Raa Middle School in Tallahassee. It was here that he learned of his upcoming induction into the FHSAA Hall of Fame, Class of 2021.
Coach Gowan noted several times how he “was blessed as a coach” to be surrounded by so many quality young men and women. One must conclude that those same young men and women have also been blessed.
Have a sports story? Contact Ken Paulk at [email protected].