Western to honor former champ Bower
To this day, Gene Bower looks back and wonders how he did it.
The 72-year-old was once a full-time student and three-sport athlete at Western State College.
“I look back on that and wonder myself how I made the academic part of it,” Bower said. “I was there to play sports. That was my main interest. I managed to get a degree.”
The three-time RMAC wrestling champion, four-time letterwinner in football and two-time letterwinner in track and field, will receive a Lifetime Athletic Achievement Award during the Western State Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame ceremony on Oct. 26 in Gunnison.
Bower, who coached wrestling one year at then Mesa Junior College, recently was chosen for the lifetime-achievement honor along with skier Adolph Kuss (1951, 1953), while football player Josh Hotchkiss (2002) and women’s track and field athlete Reidun (Daily) Wallin (2003) will be inducted into the hall of fame.
“I didn’t give it a lot of thought until I get a call from the athletic director who said I was nominated,” Bower said. “I don’t get wrapped up in that kind of thing, but after hearing the background and how the award started, I realized it is a big honor to be selected into the Hall of Fame.”
Bower originally went to Western State in 1958 to wrestle and play football.
“There was no time between seasons,” Bower said. “There was somewhat of an overlap. I can remember my first (wrestling) match after football. I definitely wasn’t prepared for it, even though I felt I was in good shape from football.”
Bower ended up participating on the track and field team after a tryout.
“The first year they needed someone for long jump and hurdles,” he said. “I tried out and was told they could definitely use me.”
He did that until his football coach asked him to focus his spring on football practice.
“I remember between my sophomore and junior year, he wanted me back at 185 for football,” Bower said. “I worked hard at weights and eating. I came back and weighed 187. A week, week-and-a-half later, I was down to 170.”
After he finished at Western in 1962, Bower came to Grand Junction, where he was a substitute teacher at Bookcliff Junior High School.
Mesa Junior College was in sudden need of a wrestling coach and asked Bower to do it.
“The coach there had an accident over the summer, and they were in dire need of a wrestling coach,” Bower recalled. “I was available.”
That season, Mesa wrestler Jim Sukle of Delta won the NJCAA national championship at 160 pounds.
“He was about my weight,” Bower said. “He was real energetic. He’d meet me a couple hours before practice, and I’d wrestle him.
“In his summer job with the Forest Service, at the end of his work day, he’d run four-five miles through the forest with heavy boots.”
Mesa needed a coach with a master’s degree, which Bower didn’t have at the time, but the experience in Grand Junction hooked him on coaching.
He left Grand Junction to take a job at Center High School in Center and took 10 wrestlers to the state tournament. The next year he took a teaching and coaching job at Crowley County High School. There, he was the head wrestling coach and an assistant football coach.
The following year, a teaching and coaching position opened at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind. In his 17 years there, he coached four wrestlers to nine state titles, including four-time winner Earl Plunkett.