Berry Tramel

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Ted Owens: Stories from the cotton-picking days

by Berry Tramel Modified: January 15, 2014 at 5:10 pm •  Published: January 15, 2014
2009 inductees, top row, from left, Ted Owens, Jon Kolb, Bob Tway, and Cal McLish, seated, pose for a photo at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Monday, August 3, 2009.
2009 inductees, top row, from left, Ted Owens, Jon Kolb, Bob Tway, and Cal McLish, seated, pose for a photo at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Monday, August 3, 2009.

Ted Owens grew up in Hollis, down in Harmon County, during the Depression. He had parents he adored — still does — and brothers he loved. They’re all gone now; Ted, the youngest of the boys, is 84 himself. But over the years, he would think about his family and things he wished he had asked them. He wondered if his own family might one day do the same.

So Owens started writing down memories. Of Hollis. Of OU. Of coaching basketball at Cameron and eventually at the University of Kansas.

The result is a book. At the Hang-Up, published in 2013 and written in conjunction with Jim Krause and Jesse Tuel. Owens, who now lives in Tulsa, will have a book-signing Thursday before and after the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame luncheon at the Bud Wilkinson Event Center, 4040 N. Lincoln Boulevard. Owens, an Oklahoma Sports Hall of Famer himself, will be available at 10:30 a.m. The luncheon begins at 11:30.

Owens played for Bruce Drake at OU, then went onto a coaching career that included two Final Four trips with Kansas, 1971 and 1974.

But the best part of the book is Owens’ recollection of days in Hollis. Hence the name of the book.

“The hang-up is when you would pull cotton, at the end of the row, when you would have your sack full, you’d take it to the end of the wagon, with the old-fashioned scales, hang it, weigh it, record how much you had pulled. You called that the hang-up.”

Homer Owens would motivate his boys on a daily basis. Homer would be hauling the cotton to the gin all day while his sons picked, but near the end of the day, he’d return, get out his sack and say, “Come on boys, let’s see if you can beat ol’ dad,” Ted remembers. “He’d motivate us to get another wagonload.”

Routinely, the boys would fill up their sacks quickly and holler, “Looks like we got you, Dad.” But Homer Owens always had a rebuttal: “It doesn’t matter what you have now, boys, it’s what you have at the hang-up.”

And now, three quarters of a century later, that lesson still resonates with the man who once picked cotton as a little boy on a farm in the corner of southwest Oklahoma.

“That’s the way life is,” Owens said. “If you’re not careful, get a little full of yourself. But no matter what’s happening, you should never lose focus of your ultimate goal and purposes in life.”

The subtitle of Owens’ book is “Seeking your purpose, running the race, finishing strong.”

“Early in our life, we need to find a purpose in our life, then we need to pursue that purpose with all the energy we have,” Owens said. “Then we need to bring it to completion at the end of our life.”

Owens had done book signings in Hollis, Lawton, Tulsa, Norman and a variety of spots in the Kansas City and Kansas areas.

“I’m really enjoying the book signings,” Owens said. “See old friends and make new friends.”

Perhaps his favorite was in Hollis. “I wanted to start where my roots were,” Owens said. “So I started off at Cameron University, my first coaching job. Went to Hollis, had a great turnout in both places. It was so heartwarming.”

Only 25 kids were in Owens’ Hollis graduating class. Five of them came to his Hollis appearance.

“I started to think back, my mom and dad died, my two brothers died, and there were so many things I didn’t know about ‘em,” Owens said. So he started writing, not just about himself for his family, but “I want them to know about the people who influenced my life, shaped my beliefs, certain value system.

“So I just started writing about growing up on the farm, Dust Bowl days in the ‘30s, and I just kept writing and kept writing.

“High school days, OU. Because of my privilege of playing at Oklahoma, it opened doors for me at Cameron and ultimately the University of Kansas. More than that, it’s about the people who gave me that opportunity. Who stood by me and supported me.”

Owens eventually wrote 115,000 words. His publisher in Kansas City recommended it be cut down to 90,000 or 95,000, and the edit omitted some of Owens’ favorite stories. “I was little upset,” Owens said. “I loved those stories.” He called the publisher and asked if the stories were too long or just not any good. Both, he was told.

There’s little chance of that. I used one of Owens’ stories in my most recent Christmas column, which you can read here.

To read them all, you can drop by the Hall of Fame luncheon Thursday and meet the author himself, who’s always good for a friendly handshake and a good story about good days.

The book includes some life lessons. He was asked to incorporate them in the book.

“I was a little hesitant to do that,” Owens said. “I have a difficult time living up to some of the standards which I believe, much less giving other people advice. But that has turned out to be a good feature in the book. People have really enjoyed the life lessons. It’s caused me to be sure I’m focused on walking the walk myself.

“A friend of mine, we played golf all the time. Have our bets on the line, come to the 18th hole, he would always say, ‘it’s finishes that make champions.’ What I encourage people to do at this point in their life is to finish strong.”

At the hang-up.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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