Community MVP: Enfield’s Tom Owens

Tom Owens of Enfield. Photo credit: Barbara Crowley

Tom Owens of Enfield. Photo credit: Barbara Crowley

By Reid Walmark

Tom Owens knew why he got into coaching youth sports back in the late 1970s when his young family moved back to his childhood hometown of Enfield. He saw the need for a coach on his oldest son Tommy’s Thompsonville Little League team.

Owens was asked to volunteer, and he accepted. The quality father-son time soon turned into something else when he experienced another level of enrichment. He caught the bug.

Now, some five years after earning the George Daly Special Recognition award for lifetime achievement from the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame, Owens, 66, still is afflicted with the desire to help out. He has routinely coached multiple teams within a season, hoping for springtime Saturday rainouts to solve trying to juggle too many practices that would overlap.

Though acknowledging that retirement from coaching has been discussed, the birth of a great-grandson, Gunner Katkavich, within the past year leaves him several years away from possibly coaching yet another generation within the Owens clan. That’s alluring to him because he has been an assistant coach for Tommy — along with son Todd — on his grandson Thomas’s American Legion Post 80 baseball team for the past few years.

“What motivates me is watching the kids learn,” Owens said. And that might be nearly as rewarding of a reason to continue coaching as is the family connection incentive.

For coaching scores of ball players at all levels, serving as a league director, fulfilling recreation department supervisory and planning duties — and impacting the lives of hundreds of athletes for decades — Owens has been named Community MVP for March by The Sports Department.

“He loves being around kids,” said former Enfield town councilman Pat Crowley, who waited years for the opportunity to coach with Owens after being pitted against him on the sidelines at first.

“I’ve been around a lot of coaches, and I’d say he’s one of the best. He takes the kids with the highest skill level and he takes the kids with the lowest skill level and he coaches them the same. He puts so much time into it.”

The Owens style is hands on, said Terry Preston, Enfield’s recreation director years ago. “He’s not one to go to the sidelines and watch,” said Preston, who includes behind-the-scenes grunt work as falling within Owens’s scope of responsibilities if it needs to be done.

Though Owens has been involved in soccer, bowling and after-school activities centers, his passion is baseball.

“He absolutely breathes the game,” Crowley said. “I told him once that he speaks baseball. That’s your language, I told him. He’s forgotten more baseball than I’ll ever learn. He teaches them how to be competitive.”

The family involvement for Owens went beyond his children. When he was president of the Thompsonville Little League for eight years, his wife, Elaine served on the board of directors for a time as well.

Owens served as controller for Coleco for years, starting when he lived in upstate New York. He graduated from Enfield High School in 1966, then obtained his bachelors degree from AIC in Springfield before earning his masters from Western New England. He’s never taken a year off from coaching since the early 1980s.

The hook for Owens has become fostering the collective improvement of a team from a season’s start to finish, including skill development, mastery of different tactics and strategy and imparting some general expertise in how to play. Crowley says Owens does an amazing job with the less skillful ballplayers, and will teach a player how to pitch even if he isn’t likely to handle many innings over the course of the season.

Owens is on the town’s athletic hall of fame’s board of directors and is on the nominating committee. He developed an interest in bowling and senior basketball over the years. Owens served as director of soccer for the West Springfield, Mass., parks and recreation department, though he never played the sport.

Owens has a clear-cut mission with his ball players.

“Whether it’s a great team or bad, they all have to learn the fundamentals of the game,” Owens said. “Everything is a struggle at first, but it all comes together. Everyone’s on the same page at the end of the season. They play as a team, and that’s everything to me.”

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