By: Jack Crawley
Old Town Times staff writer
The focal point of Thursday’s Lansing Board of Education meeting was the naming of the J.W. Sexton High School basketball court as Clayton Kowalk Court in honor of the former Sexton teacher and coach.
The issue was discussed immediately following public comment and was one of the few items on the agenda that drew no argument. Sexton, one of the feeder high schools to C.W. Otto Middle School, the primary school for youth in the Old Town community, is expected to hold the dedication ceremony at the first boys’ basketball home game in the coming season.
The name change still needs to be voted on, but if Thursday’s meeting was any indication, it seems likely to pass. A committee made up of Kowalk’s former players and community supporters have already provided the necessary funds to make the banner that will display the honor, helping to avoid one major obstacle that could arise. Some in attendance spoke about the naming as if it had already been approved, saying that they look forward to being invited to the ceremony.
The original plan was to paint the name on the court but has been switched to hanging a banner on the gym wall. Deputy Superintendent James Davis said that the change was made to prevent any damage to the floor or the dedication, itself, since moisture could harm the paint.
Two of Kowalk’s former players, Jerry Sutton and Otis Davis, represented the committee that presented the idea and raised the funds. Kowalk’s daughter, Karen O’Dell, was also in attendance. After discussing the logistics of the dedication, board members shared fond memories about Kowalk and praised the committee.
“I just want to make sure we show our appreciation for the committee and outstanding alumni of Sexton High School. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to see you gentlemen (Sutton and Otis Davis) here and the committee you represent. It brings back all the memories of the wonderful experiences we’ve all had. Clayton Kowalk was an instrumental figure in all high school athletics,” said Board Member Jack Davis.
“Those two state championship teams, the ’59 and ’60 teams (which Kowalk coached); I had the opportunity to be coached by two of the players: Doug Hearner and Art Frank, one in college and one in high school. They had played for Clayton Kowalk and they admired him very much and spoke very highly of him. And I could tell by the fact that they were great coaches, and also great players, that he was very instrumental in their lives,” said board Vice President Charles Ford, who is a Sexton graduate and former basketball player for the school.
Kowalk’s legacy extends into the classroom. Deputy Superintendent Davis quoted one of Kowalk’s former players as saying “Yes, he was a great coach, but we knew him as Mr. Kowalk, because before we looked at him as a great coach, he was a great teacher to us.”
Board President Shirley Rodgers worked with Kowalk on a Lansing recreational board in the 1970’s, as well as through the Lansing School District when he was the district-wide athletic director. “He was an absolutely caring, outstanding person and really gave his best for the community and was really committed to our students and the kids in our community,” Rodgers said. “While he may be home to Sexton, and Sexton is where he came from, he really contributed to the entire district when he was our district-wide athletic director.”
Other issues discussed at the meeting included funding for the district’s music program and bullying, an issue presented by representatives from the Lansing Junior Board of Education.