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Hempfield coach hopes to bring success to Spartans

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012,
Tribune-Review
New Hempfield Area Football Coach Rich Bowen. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
New Hempfield Area Football Coach Rich Bowen. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
New Hempfield Area Football Coach Rich Bowen. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Ever hear this before?

“I don't see why you can't win (there).”

New Hempfield coach Rich Bowen, the former Parade All-American quarterback who has revived programs twice at Serra Catholic — his alma mater — and once each at Elizabeth Forward and Yough, finds himself repeating the phrase over, and over, and over again.

Yet, Hempfield (1-8 in each of the past two seasons) hasn't experienced a winning record in 14 years, despite being among the bigger Class AAAA programs in Pennsylvania.

Even under the leadership of former NFL player Greg Meisner, the Spartans couldn't get untracked. Meisner stepped down after seven seasons and a 16-51 record as coach but remained as Hempfield athletic director.

“I'm a big believer that football is football,” Bowen said. “The only difference between Class A and Class Quad-A is there's more kids and more depth at Quad-A. There may be a few more good players on some of those teams.”

Bowen's optimism, fans of Hempfield football hope, will translate into more success. He is among 27 new coaches at WPIAL schools this season.

“We're willing to put time into it,” he said. “They've got to learn how to win. Obviously, they don't know how. But if we work on consistency, the wins will come.”

Success is nothing new to Bowen. He starred for Serra Catholic in the early-1980s and directed the Eagles to a WPIAL championship in 1981 as a quarterback/defensive back.

He was on Pitt's 1982 Cotton Bowl team as a little-used freshman safety before transferring to Division I FCS Youngstown State, where he played tight end.

His father, Dick Bowen, played on Sugar and Gator bowl teams at Pitt in the mid-1950s and lated coached at McKeesport and Serra.

“I grew up on the sideline. I'm from a football family. I learned from my father,” Bowen said.

For the past two seasons, Bowen spent time as an assistant on coach Rick Shepas' staff at Division III Waynesburg College. The two played together at Youngstown State.

“Rick really allowed me to spread my wings there. It was a great experience,” Bowen said. “I miss college coaching already. It was a great experience. But my heart is in high school coaching. I really missed the Friday nights.”

Now living in North Huntingdon, Bowen was driving great distances daily to and from Waynesburg, in Greene County.

“Sometimes, two hours one way,” he said.

At Hempfield, Bowen already has had something about which to rejoice. He started with 65 players on his roster.

“We're happy with that. I'm sure there are still kids that aren't there that could help us, that aren't coming out,” he said. “We'll try to address those types of things as we go.

“If we're running a good program, our numbers will grow. I'm optimistic.”

He's also aware of what a huge undertaking it is to turn a losing culture into a winner. Bowen's 19-year high school coaching record is 103-93-1 (.526) at schools that had been in similar throes as Hempfield's when he took over.

He hopes to make the Spartans his latest success story.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dmackall@tribweb.com or 412-380-5617.

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