PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOYS By the 1972/73 season, Coach Rowe was involved in Georgia Southern’s successful transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II play.
Former athlete and coach establishes the Coach J.E. Rowe Scholarship
From 1959 until 1974, J.E. Rowe (’61) gave a lot to Georgia Southern College. He was a two-sport athlete from 1959-61, and became the head basketball coach when Hanner Fieldhouse was erected and the program moved to Division I in 1971.
But, in 2011, Rowe gave what may have been his biggest contribution yet, when he and his family founded the Coach J.E. Rowe Scholarship, established to support and recognize individuals within the Georgia Southern University Department of Health and Kinesiology who plan to pursue a career in coaching or a coaching field.
Rowe’s motivation was simple. “In one sentence I can sum it up,” he said. “If it wasn’t for financial aid, I never could have attended college.”
Rowe attended Georgia Southern on an athletic scholarship.
“If it were up to me, I couldn’t have paid 10 dollars,” he laughed. “I was the only child in a family of five that attended college. That’s one of the main reasons I’m so happy and fortunate that my family deemed it important enough to create a scholarship in my name. It’s thrilling to give back to Georgia Southern some of the things that I was given.”
Rowe’s playing days at Georgia Southern led to several opportunities, the first of which was being drafted by the New York Mets and later signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But that was a short-lived experience that quickly led to both a lifestyle and career change.
“I was a better baseball player than I was a basketball player, but to put it this way, I only got a cup of coffee with those teams,” said Rowe. “I got out, got married and decided to start coaching.”
On the reference of J.B. Scearce, Rowe’s basketball coach when he played at Georgia Southern, Rowe went on to coach high school hoops in the Atlanta area. After a year as an assistant at Druid Hills High School, he became the head coach at Avondale High School for five years, in which he accumulated a record of 81-29.
Then, in the spring of 1967, Rowe was hired as an assistant by Scearce and returned to Georgia Southern. Scearce charged him with two important responsibilities in this position. The first was for Rowe to bring high school players Steve Buckler and Phillip Sisk with him from Atlanta. “I coached Steve for eight years through high school and college,” said Rowe, about the athlete who became one of the leading scorers in Georgia Southern history.
Rowe’s second task was to live with Roger Moore, an African-American athlete signed by Scearce. “In those days, it was not unusual for other colleges and universities to steal players from schools,” he said, describing recruitment. Moore became the first black athlete to receive a scholarship in the University System of Georgia’s history.
“There were some people who were unhappy with that situation, but they survived it, and we survived it, and everyone’s better for it,” said Rowe. “I’m glad I went through that period.”
After Scearce left the University to further his degree, Frank Radovich was named head coach and Rowe became his assistant, heading up recruiting.
When Radovich stepped down in 1971, Georgia Southern College Director of Athletics J.I. Clements named Rowe the head coach during a period of time when Georgia Southern was in transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II, and ultimately to NCAA Division I.
“There was a very fine line between a lower-major and a major college program back then, and we felt like we could play with the big boys if we could get some decent talent in there, and we did,” Rowe said about the transition. “I played teams like South Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson – I played some very, very good teams during that time.”
Rowe spent a huge portion of his life impacting Georgia Southern on the field and on the sideline and he was inducted into the Georgia Southern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991. Now, with children living in and around the Statesboro area and grandchildren attending Georgia Southern, it’s only fitting that his most recent, and maybe biggest contribution, will affect students and student-athletes in the classroom, every year into the future.
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