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Owens leaves legacy at Wiley College

By Nathan Hague
June 18, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Willie Mae Ownes, center, is presented a certificate as she was named to the Wiley College Athletics Hall of Fame in November 2012.

Wiley College's women's sports have been quite successful over the years but none of that success would have been possible without Willie Mae Owens, the founder of Lady Wildcat athletics.

Owens, who worked for the school's athletic department for 40 years as a coach and PE teacher, and was inducted in the Wiley College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012, died Saturday, June 10 in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 94.

"Ms. Owens spent four decades at Wiley College," Wiley College vice president and athletic director Joseph Morale said. "She came here in 1973 and that was right after the passage of Title IX which guaranteed opportunities for women in education, including athletic opportunities. Ms. Owens was standout basket player during her younger days at Huston Tillotson University. I think what she brought to us with all intents and purposes, Ms. Owens was the founder of Lady Wildcat sports at Wiley. She started off the formation of a cross country team and that eventually led to her helping to establish basketball, volleyball, track and field and even briefly softball."

"Her kids were crazy about her," former athletic director James Hodges said. "They would do anything for her, they really would. She had the cooperation that was always needed for a coach. She had that.

"When her players come back for homecoming, the first person they would look for was Ms. Owens," Hodges continued. "They'd say, 'Where's Ms. Owens."

"She was a fantastic person, no shenanigans," former sports information director and athletic director F.F. Jim McCutchens said. "She took care of her young ladies and made sure they performed and represented the college and represented themselves right."

Hodges said she selflessly poured so much time, energy and money into helping the athletic department.

"I remember one day they didn't have enough transportation to go where they wanted to go so she went and bought a van with her own money," Hodges recalls. "We've got something to travel in now. She was just like that."

After retiring, Owens moved to Florida to be with her daughter, and Hodges said he kept in touch with her.

"I called her Monday of last week but I was just checking on Ms. Owens," Hodges said. "She said Ms. Owens was in the hospital and said she wasn't doing too well. I said, 'OK then I'll check back later.' The next thing I heard was that she had passed."

"If there was every anything that helped those young ladies and helped the institution, she was all for that," McCutchens said. "That's why she stayed there so long because she loved the kids and loved working in athletics. She was a great representative for college athletics in Texas."

"You couldn't find a better person to have on your staff, none whatsoever," Hodges said. "She did the ground work and it paid off too. If you ever go to Wiley and look at those trophies, that's because she was there. She paid her dues. She left her legacy."

Morale said Owens will be missed by a lot of people.

"What I loved about her is that she did not mind sharing her knowledge with younger people," Morale added. "If you were a coach, and I know this for a fact, that she would call the young coaches to her office and she would offer them pearls of wisdom in terms of operating a program, dealing with younger people and understanding their responsibilities to the profession. She was a remarkable soul."

Owens was born in Morgan City, Louisiana on Nov. 7, 1922 to Clem Owens and Louisa Hill-Owens. She is survived by daughter Valerie Evans; cousin Gurtrude Bartley; nieces Tanisha and Reisha Townsend and many lifelong friends.

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