November 3 is a date Owen High School senior Kaleb Woods will remember for the rest of his life. That night, as the final seconds ticked off the clock of his final high school football game, he was mere minutes from taking off his maroon and white jersey for the last time.
“It was one of the most emotional times in my life," Woods said. "I just didn't want to take it off. Me and some of my senior teammates sat in that horseshoe (in the center of the field) for like 25 minutes after that game, because we knew as soon as we took everything off we'd never have the opportunity to put that jersey back on."
That may be true for future Owen Warhorses, given the condition of several of the team's uniforms. And now it's time to the replace those jerseys and pants, head coach Nathan Padgett said. He and his program are counting on the community to raise $10,000.
“It’s been 10 years since we purchased a complete set of matching uniforms,” Padgett said. “The jersey styles haven’t changed that much over the years so, to save money, we’ve kind of purchased jerseys and pants to fill in when needed.”
That strategy has helped extend the life of the uniforms. But it is no longer an option, now that manufacturer Russell Athletics has announced it won't be making athletic uniforms this year.
But with the bad news came some good news - Nike is offering a buy-one-get-one-free promotion for new uniforms, covering home and away games. “I had never heard of an offer like that,” Padgett said.
The timing of the Nike offer - and the deteriorating condition of the team’s uniforms - forced Padgett to consider the upgrade.
“Our varsity uniforms are still mix-and-match, but in decent shape,” Padgett said. “Before I heard from the Nike rep I was planning on having JV and varsity wear the varsity uniforms next season.”
The junior varsity uniforms were beginning to show their age, and Padgett wants his younger players to feel like winners when they take the field.
“I want to send our kids out on the field looking the best they possibly can,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that if you look good, you feel good. Those kids deserve to represent their school in a nice uniform.”
Padgett assembled a committee to develop a plan to raise the money necessary to purchase new uniforms. “We brainstormed on ways to raise this money,” he said. “We wanted to find a way to do it without putting additional stress on our booster club or athletic department.”
The Owen High School Booster Club raises money to support all sports programs offered by the school, according to president Roger Brown, who was on the uniform committee organized by Padgett.
“We often get help from the same 100 or so local businesses all the time,” Brown said. “We hate to keep hitting them up repeatedly, so we wanted to find a way to raise money without having to turn to those businesses for help.”
Last year the booster club bought 10 helmets for the football team, at a cost of $3,800, Brown said. It is currently funding a renovating project for the baseball team’s field house. And so the uniform committee decided to turn to the Owen community for help.
"We have so many people in the community who generously support this team," Padgett said. "Warhorse pride is a real thing, and we thought this would give former players, future players, family members and the people who show up and support the team a chance to contribute."
The committee set up a GoFundMe page dedicated to raising money for the uniforms (gofundme.com/owenfootball). There is also the option of mailing a check to the booster club (P.O. Box 141, Black Mountain, NC 28711) for those who aren't online, Padgett added.
The uniforms are a point of pride for the players. Woods is one of hundreds of kids from the Swannanoa Valley to have worn the iconic maroon and white during the last decade. Hundreds more will wear them in the coming years.
“Playing football at Owen was something I always wished for," Woods said. "I wanted to leave my own legacy and I knew I could do that if I worked hard."
The uniforms Padgett wants to buy from Nike will remain true to the classic look associated with the Warhorses, which bonds generations of former, current and future players. The coach, who just finished his third year on the Owen sidelines, has fond memories of playing for longtime Owen coach Kenny Ford while wearing number 54 on his jersey.
"I wanted to wear that jersey to carry on the legacy of an upperclassman who wore it when I was young," Padgett said. "It's natural for former players to come to games and look for the player on the field wearing their old number. That builds bonds for life in this community."
Woods, who plans to continue his football career on the collegiate level, will almost certainly return to Warhorse Stadium to watch his former team. He has some advice for whoever wears the number he wore - 53 - whether it's the same jersey or a new one.
"You've got to be a big hitter to wear number 53," said Woods, a former linebacker who as a senior led the team with 103 tackles. "Don't be afraid of anything. You have to work harder than the next guy. There's always somebody out there willing to work harder than you."
Want to help?
Contribute at gofundme.com/owenfootball. Or mail a check to Owen High School Booster Club, P.O. Box 141, Black Mountain, NC 28711