MONTGOMERY – Norman Wayne Bowling grew up in basketball-crazy Morgan County, graduating from Austinville High School in 1959.
He and his Austinville teammates raised the bar even higher.
Bowling was a stand out on the school’s Class A state championship basketball team of ’59, then followed that with a successful career at St. Bernard College in nearby Cullman County, graduating in 1963.
When he graduated he transitioned from playing basketball to coaching basketball when he accepted a job back in Morgan County at Danville High School. His entire teaching and coaching career was spent at Danville where he served as head boys’ basketball coach from 1963-2000, a total of 37 years. He was also the school’s head baseball coach from 1963-85.
And much like his career as a player, his basketball coaching accomplishments raised the bar even higher in Morgan County.
Among his basketball accomplishments he became the career high school coaching wins leader in Morgan County with a career record of 683-388. His coaching tenure also included five state tournament appearances (1977, 1978, 1985, 1991 and 1992) with his ‘92 team advancing to the finals. His Hawks won two sub-state championships, Five Regional and 12 Area championships.
Equally important to Morgan County schools, his teams won the Morgan County championship in 1965, 1985, 1988 and 1992. His legacy includes having the Morgan County tournament Most Valuable Player Award being named in his honor.
Bowling’s teams were noted for their shooting skills. The 1995 team remains one of the highest-scoring in state history scoring 100 or more points 12 times with a season high of 124.
Those records resulted from Bowling’s skill as a basketball player and coach and from his ability to instill his own competitive spirit in the legion of players who wore the Danville jersey.
Coach Lynn Holladay wrote in 2015 of Bowling’s love for the game of basketball letter of recommendation to the Hall of Fame selection committee.
“Today at age 73, Wayne still plays basketball several times per week at a very high skill level,” said Holladay. “If there were an Alabama Small College Basketball Hall of Fame, Wayne would be one of the first inductees. I know Wayne’s skill level because I played against him at the collegiate level. I also played with him and against him in varying levels of competition after college for all most 50 years. Wayne was one of the most competitive players that I have played against.”
Holladay said Bowling’s better than 60% winning record is even more remarkable when considering that for approximately the first 20 years of Wayne’s coaching career Danville was a 1A school and his schedule was comprised of many larger schools such as Austin, Decatur, Hartselle, Brewer, Lawrence County and East Lawrence.
Holladay, who is writing a book on Morgan County’s outstanding basketball history, credits Bowling with introducing the fast-break style of basketball that he had played at St. Bernard, to Morgan County.
“His first team at Danville averaged over 76 points per game, which was almost six points more than any Morgan County team had ever averaged,” He said. “Within two years, Wayne’s style of play had spread to almost all other teams in Morgan County, and all of them were suddenly averaging about six to eight points more than they ever had. The style of play employed by Wayne at Danville soon crossed the county borders into the adjoining counties. The tempo of the game had spread tremendously.”
Morgan County School Superintendent Bill W. Hopkins Jr., who played and coached against Bowling, recalled going to watch Bowling’s teams play as a child.
“I then had the honor of playing against his teams in varsity basketball and baseball,” he continued. “When I became a young coach, I had the privilege of coaching against his teams. Later when I became an administrator I was able to watch his teams compete against other teams. I was always amazed how he took what seemed like less talent than others and molded them into successful winning teams. The discipline of his teams became his trademark.”
Bowling also made a difference off the court. One of his former players, Joe D. Bailey said he is a prime example of that influence.
“Coach Bowling, I know I have told you before, but I wanted to put in writing how much you mean to me,” he wrote. “I want you to know how much I appreciate all that you did for me. You drove me to be the best player and person I could be, and I still see results from that today.
“You taught me more than anyone how to compete. You are still the most competitive person I know, and you helped me learn how to compete at a high level. We won a lot of games, and I am proud of that as I know you are. But, I also know that’s not why you coached. You coached to make a difference in the lives of young men, and you did that. You did that not just in my life but in (the lives of) so many others.
“I will always be grateful for your leadership. I am glad to be a small part of your successful career. It was a joy and honor to play for you. Thank you for being disciplined and stern with us—we needed it. I want you to take comfort in knowing that you had a huge impact on one player’s life.”