Video is a reminder that we're all kind of Warhorses

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Fred McCormick

I’m not a Warhorse.

I don’t bleed maroon and white like the many folks in the Swannanoa Valley who graduated from Owen High School or those currently attending and working there, but I noticed a video on Facebook the other day that caught my attention.

While I didn’t attend school in the Swannanoa Valley, I’ve come to know its only high school well during my time writing for The Black Mountain News.

I’m not the type of person who clicks on, or even notices, everything that floats down my social media timelines, but in a recent post on the school's Facebook page, I noticed a video entitled “I am a Warhorse." Produced by Asheville-based Amplified Media, it opened with a dramatic shot of the school’s picturesque campus. I was inclined to check it out.

One of the first things that became apparent to me when I started covering news in this community five years ago was just how prevalent Warhorse Pride is here.

For years there were two high schools in what is now the Owen District.

That changed in 1955 when the Warriors of Swannanoa High School and the Dark Horses of Black Mountain High School combined to become the Owen Warhorses. For the past 64 years, every public school student in the Valley has been a Warhorse.

More than half of the school's existence was in the building that currently serves as Owen Middle School, the Valley's only public middle school and home of the Warcolts. In 1991, the current high school campus opened. It features spectacular mountain views from practically everywhere and the property on which it sits was donated by what was then known as the Presbyterian Home for Children of Black Mountain — now the Black Mountain Home for Children. 

An aerial view of Owen High School captures the surrounding beauty of the Swannanoa Valley.

The video, which can be viewed on the Charles D. Owen Facebook page right now, jumps to veteran Broadway actor Kevin Massey, class of 1997, proudly announcing "I'm a Warhorse on Broadway." It then cuts to 1975 Owen grad Porky Spencer, who coached at the school for 27 years. 

A 2017 graduate of the school is next, followed by a 1958 graduate of the school's first freshman class. Carl Bartlett was the mayor of Black Mountain for many years and has called Warhorses' home football games for many more. 

Within the first 15 seconds of the one-minute video you realize just how deeply rooted the school is in the Swannanoa Valley. Past, current or future involvement with Owen High School is something that the vast majority of the community shares in common. 

With only around 800 students, the smallest school in Buncombe County has produced some well-known names. Roy Williams, who just led the North Carolina Tar Heels to a win over the Duke Blue Devils in the historic rivalry on Feb. 20, began his coaching career at Owen. Super Bowl winning quarterback Brad Johnson was a Warhorses and so was top NBA draft pick and current co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, Brad Daugherty. 

Actor Matt Lutz is a 1997 graduate of the school as well. Authors Patricia Cornwell and John Howard Smith are also alumni. 

A statue depicting the school's mascot greets those who enter the campus of Owen High School, which is home to the Warhorses and Warlassies.

You won't go far in the Swannanoa Valley without bumping into an Owen graduate. The ranks of local police officers, firefighters, business owners, hospitality workers, lawyers, teachers, college students, town employees and elected officials all include people who once walked its halls. 

There are those with long histories in the area who can point to generations of Warhorses in their family trees. 

Many, like me, moved here later and did not attend the school. A large subset of those people are parents with children who are currently attending Owen or have in the past. 

Then there are students of W.D. Williams in Swannanoa or Black Mountain Primary or Black Mountain Elementary who will one day become Warhorses. "I am a Warhorse" introduces viewers to Mia McMurry, who is a currently a Warcolt but already anticipates graduating from the nearby high school in 2023. 

My daughter should be among the young women and men who receive their diplomas with the Owen High School class of 2030. 

Warhorse Pride runs deep in the Swannanoa Valley. Maroon and white have long held a special place in the hearts of people of all ages. The shared passion for the local high school is one of the things that helps makes this community such a special one. 

So whether you find yourself among those who received a diploma from Owen High School or not, remember that we're all kind of Warhorses.