Former Howard High basketball coach Henry Bowles made numerous trips to the state basketball tournament as the Hustlin’ Tigers’ longtime successful mentor, and he recently made one more round ball journey to Middle Tennessee.
Late last month, he was inducted into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Murfreesboro. The honor came to an innovative coach who had compiled an impressive 616-260 record while coaching Howard parts of four decades.
“It was really quite an elated feeling,” the amicable coach recalled recently from his longtime home off Highway 58. “The only thing that would have made me feel better was to have had my parents there, but I know they were celebrating the joy and the excitement.”
For Coach Bowles, the road up Interstate 24 to the ceremony had been a figuratively long one. Reared in Chattanooga, he had learned some important lessons about discipline and love early in life from his mother, Fannie Bowles, and his father, James Bowles, the latter of whom worked both at the local TNT plant and in private homes to feed seven children and a spouse.
“We didn’t have a lot, but my parents provided for us,” he said, pointing out that the family never had to live in a public housing unit.
Coach Bowles went on to play quarterback and safety for coach T.R. “Red” Gaston at Howard High. He was also a statistician for the basketball team and played industrial league baseball.
When he graduated from Howard High in 1955, he had several athletic scholarship offers. He decided to take a full football scholarship to Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., where he was a four-year letterman as a quarterback, running back and defensive back.
He was also a quarterback off the field as well, serving as student business manager his junior year at Lane and student body president his senior year. “We were able to open a canteen and get other activities for the students that they did not have,” he said.
In 1959, he returned to Howard as a social studies teacher and offensive backfield coach. Three years later, he felt a desire to become a head coach, where he could use some of the ideas stirring in his creative mind, so he took the head football, basketball and track coaching position at Howard Junior High.
“There were some things I wanted to experiment with and wanted to do, such as no huddles and double slots, but was not allowed to do at the high school level,” he said.
In football, his teams finished first or second every year in his division, and his basketball team compiled a 97-14 record, winning the championship the last three years. He also won six track championships in seven years.
But his career was actually just getting started. In August 1969, the Howard principal called him into the office and asked him to take the high school basketball coaching job on an interim basis. The principal had watched some of Coach Bowles’ junior high games, and had been impressed with his conduct and ability to handle the players.
Coach Bowles agreed to accept the job, even though he had been promised he would become the head football coach at Howard High in the near future.
At the time, archrival Riverside High was dominating the series against Howard, winning several state championships under Dorsey Sims. But during the 1969-70 season, Coach Bowles made Howard quite competitive, and he had found a job to last him the rest of his professional life.
“I took it for one year and lasted 29 years,” he said. “The reason I continued was that we had played the mighty Riverside Trojans in the region, and they had defeated us by one point. I then told the players I would be taking over the football program and they begged me to stay with the basketball program and they would carry me to the state tournament the next year.
“Not only did they promise but they fulfilled the promise for the next two years,” he said. “And we went to the state four consecutive years.”
Coach Bowles said that all he wanted to do initially was not be embarrassed by coaches like Dorsey Sims, Jim Phifer of City High and Clifford Ross of Knoxville Austin-East. He also would go on to have some competitive matchups against other good coaches, including Bill Eskridge of McCallie and Robert High of Brainerd.
Before becoming Howard’s coach, Coach Bowles had noticed that the neighborhoods in Riverside’s zone had a number of outdoor basketball courts, while those in Howard’s did not. With the help of longtime educator Dr. C.C. Bond and others, some outdoor public courts were erected for future and current Hustlin’ Tigers to develop their games away from school.
In fact, Coach Bowles – who had numerous assistant coaches during his long tenture – is quick to give credit to his players for his success.
“I have had a great deal of success but I have to share the credit with my players, who made the ultimate sacrifices to be winners and be competitive each and every time we hit the floor,” he said.
Coach Bowles was reluctant to try to name all his outstanding players and contributors, for fear of leaving out someone. But those who went on to play a lot in college included Gerald Cunningham of Kentucky State, Cornell Williams of Michigan, Houston Scruggs of East Tennessee State University, James Williams at Vanderbilt, and Johnny Taylor and Stanford Strickland at UT-Chattanooga. Other great players included Dillard “Dank” Hawkins, Edrick Smith, Wendell Poole, Darrell Hodge, Tony Hale, Durwin Carter, George Autry, Standley Hubbard, Victor Boykin, Willie Caldwell, Ponnie Mastin and Charles Morgan, among others. He also coached football great Reggie White.
With the help of these players, Coach Bowles was able to institute some of his innovations, such as zone defenses that looked like man-to-man defenses, and vice versa. As an example, when Howard played Baylor and future North Carolina player Jimmy Braddock in the late 1970s, Coach Bowles had a different player guarding him every few minutes, causing him to tire more easily and not be as productive as usual.
“We believed you won ballgames by playing defense, and everything else was a bonus,” he said.
One reason Coach Bowles was able to concentrate so well on basketball was the support of his wife, Joyce, who was also a longtime educator. “She was taking care of our children while I was taking care of other people’s children,” he said. “I think she did a pretty good job.”
Their daughter, Etoil Bowles Brown, became the first black May queen at Girls Preparatory School in 1984, while their son, Hank Bowles, was an all-state football player for Pete Potter at McCallie School in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In early 1997, Coach Bowles received the honor of having the gym at Howard named in his honor.
Unfortunately for Coach Bowles, principal Dr. Edna Varner decided not to renew his contract after the 1997-98 season. He admitted that he is still disappointed he was not able to coach one more year after giving the school so many years of positive and successful service.
Although he was unable to end his Howard career with proper goodbyes, the Hall of Fame ceremony finally put a closure on a great career that had favorably impacted local sports headlines and the lives of young men.