Bob Cowman played key role in Norwalk soccer success

Mark Hazelwood • Jan 13, 2020 at 7:22 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a four-part series highlighting the Norwalk High School Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which will be held on Saturday.


NORWALK — Bob Cowman needed to hear of his Norwalk High School Hall of Fame induction to end 2019.

But not for the personal reasons one would think.

The former Norwalk boys soccer coach is currently the head men’s soccer coach at John Wood Community College in Quincy, Ill., located at the state’s border with Missouri.

“We were coming off a pretty rough season, and when I heard about (the Hall of Fame), it was a reminder of what got me to where I'm at here," Cowman said. “It came at a time that really validated why I've been doing this for 29 years.”

Cowman, along with Ryan Grose (basketball), Robin Welch (distinguished) and Gary Wilde (baseball), make up the NHS Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which will be recognized at an induction banquet and ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Art Gallery at Norwalk High School.

Cowman served as the head boys soccer coach at Norwalk from 1998-2004.

“It's incredibly humbling,” he said. “You don't coach for accolades, and my time at Norwalk was really deep in my past. But it was something that was a springboard and, really, the foundation of my coaching career.”

Cowman arrived at Norwalk as a volunteer assistant coach in the second year of the program in 1993. The next season, he became the junior varsity coach and an assistant to varsity head coach Kurt Dreier. The Truckers were coming off a Division II regional semifinal appearance in 1997 when Dreier stepped down as coach. Up next was Cowman.

With the foundation that had been set, Cowman’s teams never looked back. The Truckers were no worse than a 10-5-3 record in any of his seven seasons, and even that team in 2000 claimed one of four sectional titles in Div. II under his watch.

In Cowman’s seven seasons as head coach, the Truckers were 88-21-17 for an .807 winning percentage.

“Things were established by Kurt, and no one anticipated him moving,” Cowman said. “Athletic Director Jerry Emmons had spoken to me about it, but I never thought I’d be the head coach because I wasn’t employed by the district. But he hired me and the rest is history.

“There was a tremendous amount of parental support during that time,” he added. “We had an incredible parent and booster support, and I look back on it now and think, ‘wow, that was the best group I ever had.’”

Included in Cowman’s stretch at Norwalk were two one-loss regular-season teams in 2002 (13-2-2) and 2004 (14-2-2), along with the performance standard for all Trucker soccer teams from 1999.

For that ‘99 season, the Truckers authored the only undefeated regular season in the 28-year history of the program, finishing 15-1-1 overall.

“We allowed three or four goals the entire year — just stingy with the ball,” Cowman said. “We were just so stingy.”

But that stingy success wasn't just limited to that year. A full 70 of Cowman’s 88 wins at Norwalk were shutouts.

“Few people know this about that 1999 team — but I wouldn’t even show up in the first 15 minutes (of practice),” Cowman said. "Joe Babcanec and Tom King would run the pre-practice and I never had to worry. They were fully dialed in.

“I've said it many times over, but they were the best two captains I’ve ever had at any time, level or place,” he added. “Those two boys knew what it meant to lead as a team. That’s right when we started to become dangerous.”

Cowman thinks a big reason for his team’s success at Norwalk, which also included a 23-3-2 record against bigger Div. I opponents, was the sport of soccer taking off on a national, or at least regional, scale.

“Kids were beginning to play year-round, but also facilitated with coaching outside of the season,” he said. “We would call them developmental kids. We took full advantage of all the soccer time that we could.

“Kurt started it, and myself and Paul (Lamb) carried it on,” he added. “Those Norwalk soccer camps were building blocks for the high-school program. It started to formulate things. But it was the right timing. We already had the structure, but then the soccer world was taking off.”

A pastor at Calvary Baptist church during his time at Norwalk, Cowman and his family left Norwalk after the 2004 season — when he was also the North Central District Coach of the Year.

Cowman left Ohio to work as pastor of Columbus Road Church in Quincy, where he and his wife, Lisa, have raised their four adult children: Matthew, Madison, Michaela and Meredith.

Staying in soccer, he served as an assistant coach at Quincy High School in both the boys and girls programs, then served as the Director of Coaching for the Quincy United Soccer Club and the Director of the Great River Soccer Academy in Quincy.

Prior to becoming the head men’s coach at JWCC, Cowman was an assistant women’s coach at Hannibal Lagrange University for four seasons. He holds National, Advanced National and Director of Coaching diplomas from United Soccer Coaches, the largest soccer coaches’ organization in the world, with more than 30,000 members.

Norwalk is his wife’s hometown and, along with many relationships from his days at Calvary Baptist, Cowman’s interest in boys soccer and Norwalk athletics in general has never waned.

“I'm always going to be a Norwalk Trucker, no doubt about it,” he said. "I followed just how great of a fall sports season all the teams just had. I cannot wait to see (basketball coach) Steve Gray and congratulate him five years removed on the state title. He was just getting that going when I left.

“(Baseball coach) Wes Douglas is another person who still supports me from afar,” he added. “It’s really humbling to be recognized as someone who made a contribution, and it really brought me back to the core of the fundamentals of why I do what I do. But a lot of the credit goes to all the kids who bought in. They respected me, and I treated them well. There was a huge dynamic of love.”