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.