Having spent the better part of his life connected to Central High School in one manner or another, it is only fitting that his name will now forever grace a place that he holds so dearly to his heart.
On behalf of a Lion legacy, the former player, coach, teacher, principal and now Carroll County Schools Superintendent is humbled to have Cowart Court dedicated in his honor this evening in a ceremony during halftime of the boys’ game against Jackson of Atlanta.
And while the court now bears his name, Cowart said a multitude of former players, assistant coaches, managers and other systems of support share in the achievement.
“All those folks that we were fortunate enough to work with at Central. You had Ronnie Burchfield as an athletic director. We just had a good team, we had good people. I think any honor like this is not about the individual person, it’s about the people who worked together to have good things happen. Nothing good happens in team sports without an entire cast of good folks, and we had that at Central High School,” Cowart said.
Cowart’s crowning achievement as the Lions’ head man came during a magical run in the 1984-85 season that saw them capture a Class AA state championship, finishing the campaign 26-3 overall.
The Lions defeated a Waycross ball club that entered the state final showdown sporting a perfect 28-0 record before Central handed it an 86-76 setback on the Georgia Tech campus in the title triumph, capping off a run that included a first-round win over M.D. Collins (66-64), a quarterfinal dispatching of East Hall (77-72) and the semifinal victory over Bleckley County (70-63).
“It was a great year in a number of ways. We were [26-3] and we had three losses in the regular season to really, really good teams. And we had some wins against some really, really good teams. So when we made the playoffs — we were tested, we were battle-tested — our kids believed. They knew what they had to do. That put us in a good position,” Cowart said. “The other thing that it takes to win a championship is you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to work together and, also, you’ve got to have a little luck along the way and win a close game here, win a close game there.”
Along with the state championship, Cowart guided the Lions to three final four appearances, four elite eights and six state tournament berths. Finishing his 15-year coaching career with an overall record of 215-116, Cowart was a three-time Region Coach of the Year and the Class AA State Coach of the Year in 1984-85.
As a player, the 1975 CHS graduate was a member of the team that went 20-0 and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the state. Along with coaching the boys’ varsity squad, Cowart also served as a volunteer middle school coach while attending West Georgia College and then coached the girls’ varsity team in 1979 before taking over the boys’ program the following year.
In addition to the success on the hardwood, Cowart also had his hand in the Lions’ back-to-back state titles on the gridiron in 1986-87. And for Central faithful like Burchfield — head football coach during that era — it made for an exciting time during the Lions’ glory days.
“On that basketball team in ‘84-85, there was eight football players and three of them were starters in basketball. Of course, in ‘86 we won state in football and they went to the state playoffs in basketball and we were co-champions in track. I guess I’ve always said, ‘Get a good bus driver and good air in the ball and don’t mess them up. Don’t over-coach,’” Burchfield said.
“Also, we had some great girls’ programs, too, back then. It wasn’t just boys. The girls’ [basketball team] made the final four in the state tournament and they were good in track and softball. It was just a really good time.”
Cowart was appointed principal of Central High School in 1994 and served as the school’s leader until June of 2000. After a six-year stint as Superintendent of Monroe County Schools, Cowart returned home and now holds the same title with Carroll County.
Having spent 33 years of his life at Central — going to school for 12 years and working in the educational system for 21 years — Cowart can’t think of any place he’d rather be these days.
“So when I think of Central High School and the Central family, I’m talking about a major portion of my life having been a part of that. And thus it’s an honor for me to be able to come back to Carroll County and now to work at the district level to not only help Central, but also to help all the county schools. What I’m hoping we can do is continue to try to work toward a similar direction we had in ‘85 with the basketball program,” Cowart said.
“I believe those 33 years that I spent at Central High School are what helped prepare me and helped prepare the philosophy that I have. I hope that now I can continue to work with every one of our schools in Carroll County to make them the very best that they can be.”
Along with the many students and players Cowart mentored through the years, he also steered several up-and-coming coaches in the right direction during his career. Current Lady Lion basketball and softball coach Jimmy LeBlanc credits his predecessor for laying the foundation for him to be a successful leader.
“What’s so interesting about this, I feel so strongly about the man. He’s one of my mentors coming into this. He gave me opportunities, counseled me when I needed counseling and helped me to develop as a young coach. He’s a very big part of my family. But I’ll tell you his focus isn’t on his name on the court — his focus is on all the players, the managers, the cheerleaders, the co-workers he had during that time that made it such a special time,” LeBlanc said.
“We want to honor him because he’s a very special man and has done so much for Central High School. In his mind, he feels like this is an honor for all the people who made this possible — the young men who came through, those young ladies and the co-workers he’s had. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of those folks come back and hopefully it will be a neat little reunion on Friday night, too.”
And with the facility itself being named after his grandfather — Rayford Walker Gymnasium — it makes having the court in his name all the more special.
“I’m extremely humbled, I’m extremely appreciative and honored, especially for the people that helped make it happen. Nothing like that happens except when a group of people come together with a common direction,” Cowart said.
And from that state championship nearly three decades ago to today, education and basketball have coupled into a labor of love for a man that embodies everything the Central spirit stands for to future generations of Lions.
“I was a young coach at the time. To have a group of kids that really worked that hard and really wanted to succeed and have the support that our school and community put behind us, it was really something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” Cowart said.