Gay Gower will be at a high school football game Friday night, somewhere she has been on autumn Friday evenings in Oklahoma for the past 57 years.
On Friday, the 79-year-old grandmother of five will get behind the wheel of her Chrysler Town and Country and drive from Tecumseh to Deer Creek where the second-ranked Antlers will host McAlester in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs.
Gay's youngest son, Grant, is head coach at Deer Creek. She hasn't missed an Antlers game all season.
She hasn't missed many high school football games in 57 seasons where her late husband, Gene, or her sons, Andy and Grant, were coaching or playing.
Gay says if anyone needs directions to a high school football stadium in Oklahoma, they can call her.
“I can tell you where almost all of them are because I've been there,” she said.
Oklahoma high school football has been important to the Gower family, and the Gower family has been important to it.
“Gene used to laugh and say, ‘We speak football in this family,'” Gay said.
From Korea to Central State
Gay Green wasn't a football fan when she graduated in 1952 from old Central High School in Oklahoma City. She attended Central State University in Edmond on a music scholarship, and there she met the man she would be married to for 47 years.
Gene Gower was a football player. “Tough as nails,” Gay says.
A native of Lawton, Gene Gower played for Cameron Junior College, where in 1948 he participated in the Junior College Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and was named an All-American.
He went to Southern Methodist University to play football but was drafted into the Korean War.
Gene was a Green Beret and a lieutenant in the 45th Infantry Division, the famous Thunderbirds. Before the fighting started in Korea, the leadership of the 45th Infantry Division put together a football team.
About half of the team was from Oklahoma, including halfback Gene Gower, and a guy named Buddy Ryan from Frederick. Dan Blocker, aka Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza, also was a member of the 45th squad.
The unit was close-knit, and the 45th Infantry veterans alive today still call Gay on occasion to check on her, including Buddy Ryan.
“Talked to him a month ago,” Gay said.
The Thunderbird football team went unbeaten in two years playing against other units and became the pride of the 45th division.
After leaving Korea, Gene and other members of the Thunderbird team enrolled at Central State, now called University of Central Oklahoma, where they played football for Dale Hamilton, the man for whom Hamilton Field House is named. Hamilton was an assistant coach on the 45th Infantry team.
In those days, students were seated in classes by alphabetical order. Gay's last name was Green so she was seated next to Gene in two classes.
They got engaged and “Coach Ham” — as Gay called the football coach and the man she worked for while in college — advised her that if she were going to marry a man who intended on coaching football, she better learn the game or she would be bored for the rest of her life.
So Gay enrolled in a class that taught the fundamentals of football.
“I was the only girl in there,” she said.
The coaching journey begins
Gene's first high school coaching job was at Okeene. Gay would keep statistics for her husband and travel with him on scouting trips.
She would also meet with all of the players' moms before the season to explain the game of football.
Gene later held head coaching jobs in Waurika and Seiling before becoming a school administrator.
They settled in Tecumseh where Gene accepted a job as superintendent at North Rock Creek, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in rural Pottawatomie County.
Gay began teaching music and remedial reading in Tecumseh Public Schools. She later became a counselor.
The football games on Friday night, however, didn't stop. First, it was their oldest son, Andy, who played football for Tecumseh, and then it was Grant.
Andy earned a football scholarship to East Central University in Ada, and for awhile Gene and Gay Gower were attending football games every Friday night and every Saturday afternoon.
“I played 44 college football games,” Andy Gower said. “They were at every single one of them.”
One time, Grant played for Tecumseh on a Friday night, and Andy was playing for East Central the next day against Eastern New Mexico in Portales, N.M.
After Grant's high school game ended in Tecumseh, the Gowers drove all night to get to Portales in time for Andy's game.
When Andy started coaching high school football at Kiowa, his parents made a habit to go to all of his games.
Grant, still in college and playing baseball at Oklahoma Baptist University, even scouted Kiowa's opponents for his older brother.
“In my opinion, that was really beneficial to him,” Andy said. “My brother is really intelligent. He is a really good student of the game.”
Grant knew then that he also wanted to be a football coach.
“That's what we all have done,” he said.
This is the first year in the last 32 that Andy has not coached high school football. He is now principal at Madill High School after coaching high school football in Oklahoma at Kiowa, Okemah, Konawa, Ada and Purcell.
Grant's baseball and football coaching resume over the last 29 years includes Olive, Perry, Putnam City West, Tecumseh and now Deer Creek.
He came to Deer Creek 11 years ago as a principal but a year later became an assistant football coach.
He took over as head football coach at Deer Creek in 2008. Five years later, he now directs a 10-1 football team with state championship aspirations.
Football is more important
In many ways, Gay is very much what one would expect a 79-year-old grandmother to be.
Her three-story, nearly century-old brick home in Tecumseh is filled with knickknacks and memories.
Her refrigerator door is covered with photos of her family, most notably her grandchildren.
The lunchboxes that her sons carried to school when they were boys — a Green Hornet and Get Smart — sit on top of the refrigerator. She can't remember which lunch pail belonged to which son, but they can't either.
She loves to bake Hershey pies for her family but frets that she never made a good cup of coffee.
She volunteers at the local senior citizens center and loves to grow herbs. She often gives herb workshops at garden clubs, teaching others on the different kinds of herbs, how to grow them and the different ways they can be used.
But she rarely conducts an herb workshop during football season.
“Football is more important,” she says.
Another Gower to follow
Gene Gower died in 2001 at age 72 from a massive stroke, a day after watching Deer Creek's Class 3A state semifinal playoff loss to Seminole.
“It was too (sudden),” Gay said. “He was the best person that ever walked.”
After her husband's death, Gay kept going to her coaching sons' football games.
Before Deer Creek's playoff game with McAlester on Friday night, she and Grant will do something they do before every game — say a prayer together.
“We don't pray for them to win,” she said. “We pray for them to do their best and give it their all and to play with good sportsmanship and to play with integrity.”
The integrity portion of the prayer is especially important to her.
“If you don't have integrity, you don't have anything,” she said. “That's the way Gene and I were raised.”
After the prayer, she will take her seat in the stands with the rest of the Gower clan, Grant's wife, Paula, his in-laws and any aunts, uncles and cousins who also show up.
If anyone in the stands criticizes the coaching, she likely will speak her mind like she has done a few times over the years.
“I say ugly things to them, but they ask for it,” she said.
After the game, she will go down on the field with the rest of the Deer Creek football family and offer words of encouragement to the players, win or lose.
If Grant were to quit coaching football today, it wouldn't stop Gay from going to high school football games. There is another Gower for her to follow around the state.
Andy's son, Ty, is in his first year as an assistant coach at Broken Arrow, marking the third generation of Gowers to coach Oklahoma high school football.
Broken Arrow plays at Norman North in the Class 6A quarterfinals on Friday night.
And Gay feels guilty that she won't be there.