When Kurt Bowman came to Hillsboro in 2006, he did not look like a typical wrestling coach. He had health issues, but that fact never held him back from making a positive impact on the students he worked with at Hillsboro as the head middle school and assistant high school wrestling coach.
“As a parent of three of his wrestlers, I can say he had a special way of motivating the kids,” Kaylene Mueller, said. “The heart that he had just totally inspired each of them. He cared so much about each one. It was amazing.”
Mueller and her husband, Ronald, spent many weeknights and Saturdays in gymnasiums around the state watching Bowman help coach their three sons, Nicholas (a 2009 graduate), Darren (a 2011 graduate), and Bret (a current senior).
“It was comforting to know that our boys had such a tremendous role model in Kurt,” she said. “He was able to bring such camaraderie to the team. He will be tremendously missed.”
Many of Bowman’s current and former wrestlers attended his funeral Dec. 12 at the H.W. Lohrenz Building Chapel on the Tabor College campus. They lined the sidewalks as Bowman’s casket was carried from the chapel.
“His legacy will live on in the lives of every wrestler he worked with here,” Mueller said. “He will always be a part of whom they are and who they become.
One thing Bowman’s wrestlers remember about him, was the motivational quotes he often spouted at pertinent times.
“At every tournament or dual, after warm-up we would go in the locker room and Coach O’Hare would talk to us and lead us in a prayer. Then Bowman would say, ‘It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I brought the bubble gum,’” said former wrestler Grady Stultz, of rural Goessel. “He was a great motivator and ice-breaker. He always made me laugh, and he always brought the bubble gum.”
From 2003 to 2009 Goessel and Hillsboro schools fielded a combined wrestling team as Goessel did not offer the sport. Bowman reached out to students from both schools and brought them together as one team.
Robby McClelland, a 2009 Hillsboro High School graduate and former wrestler, said he felt a special bond with Coach Bowman because they both came into the program in 2007 and had the “new kid on the block” syndrome to deal with.
“Coach helped me a lot on the mat without ever having to take a step on it,” McClelland said. “He saw things, things that O’Hare would miss, and things that no one else would point out. He could explain things in a way that I could understand. For example, I do not think I would have ever been able to keep opponents on the mat if not for Bowman. I would go to a move known as ‘crab riding,’ but too often, I was longer than my opponent was so he would never stay down.
I never came to Coach Bowman about it, but he saw I needed help and gave me pointers, and they worked. That is what made Bowman such a great person; you did not have to come to him for help to know that he was there watching, helping, believing in you.”
McClelland, now a junior at Wichita State University majoring in political science, said he would forever be thankful for the encouragement Bowman gave.
“He inspired me to never give up, to never complain, even when I was hurt,” he said. “He was always a helping hand in the wrestling room, and in life in general, always giving pointers and keeping us focused on what needed to be done. I will always remember his words and be forever thankful. He meant that much to us, to me.”
John Hein, 2009 Hillsboro High School graduate and wrestler said Bowman was a true inspiration to everyone.
“He coached even though he had health issues. He really connected to all of the kids on the wrestling team,” Hein said. “Not only was he a good coach but a good mentor. He taught us a lot about life. Everyone liked him because he cared about all of us.”
Hein said Bowman connected with parents and wrestlers, not only during wrestling season, but even during the rest of the year.
“He helped us fill out college forms and offered his time to kids even after they graduated. Coach cared about everyone.”
Bowman coached at Hillsboro High School for six years, touching lives of 50 to 100 wrestlers and their families during that time. He was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease in April 2005, and dealt with complications of the disease for the years that followed, always with a positive attitude and hope for the future.
“More than anything, he relished the small moments,” his wife, Jessica Bowman, said. “At one point, as a coach, it may have all been about winning. But his situation changed him. He loved to see the wrestlers’ small successes and wanted to help them in any way he could. That’s what it was all about for him.”
Bowman was proud of the fact that this year he would have coached a wrestler all through middle school and high school. Bret Mueller, the lone senior wrestler at Hillsboro High School this year, was Bowman’s first six-year product. He was listed as a coach on programming earlier this season, and in the minds of all who knew him, accomplished all he set out to do. Bowman died from a massive heart attack on Dec. 8, 2011. He was 40 years old.