Owen Warhorses honor an angel
Anne Michaels started giving money to the Owen football team almost 30 years ago and never stopped
During the thick of the football season, Anne Michaels is west of Lake Tarpon in Palm Harbor, Fla.. But her heart is at Warhorse Stadium.
Her $20,000 in donations to the Owen High School football program over the past two years are merely the latest acts of kindness from the part-time Black Mountain resident, acts that have gone back nearly 30 years.
Michaels and her late husband John began coming to Black Mountain in 1987, less than a year after former Warhorse coach Kenny Ford took over the team. Michaels met Ford at the Black Mountain Golf Course.
"There were always people at the golf course willing to support the team," Ford said. "I met Anne and John there, and Anne has been an important part of Warhorse football ever since."
Michaels said Ford's outgoing personality and passion as a young coach appealed to her as a football fan.
"I love football," she said. "And I loved Kenny when we met him because his passion for his team was contagious."
To show her support, Michaels began buying the food for the annual Warhorse Classic golf tournament, a fundraising event for the team.
"After a while she would come by and visit me when she came up from Florida," Ford said. "We got to know each other and she's really become one of my best friends over the years."
The contributions from Michaels continued, and grew, becoming vital to the program.
"People don't always realize how expensive it is to provide everything for a high school football team," Ford said. "You have an athletic fund that pays for the essentials, like helmets and pads. But even the stickers on the helmets can cost $400 or $500."
Michaels has attended countless Owen games through the years before heading back to her Florida home in the fall. She remembers many of the players by name. But she never had a chance to see her favorite Warhorse of all time in action.
"I met Brad Johnson when I first got up here, after his senior season," she said. She followed his career with the Minnesota Vikings and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl in 2003. "I was so proud to know him," Michaels said of Johnson.
Michaels and other supporters of the Warhorses program impacted the team much more than just financially while Ford was on the sidelines, he said.
"People like Anne that supported the team always made me want to work harder," he said. "And I passed that down to the players too. I would tell them 'a lot of people care about this team, and we're not going to go out there and let them down.'"
Second-year Warhorse head coach Nathan Padgett was quite familiar with Michaels when he took over following Ford's retirement in 2015.
"Ms. Michaels has been a tremendous supporter of our program through the years," he said. "She has such a giving heart and wants to help, and we really appreciate everything she's done over the years."
Padgett presented Michaels with a plaque recognizing her contributions to the team at the Warhorse Classic in July. It's a possession that she treasures, displaying it on the wall in her dining room.
"I'm very proud of that plaque," she said. "I was surprised when it was given to me, but very appreciative, because this is kind of my legacy as a part of Black Mountain."
Michaels responded with a surprise of her own, one that Padgett said underscores her giving nature.
"She presented us with a $5,000 check just a little while after we presented her with the plaque," he said. "So she has given us $7,500 just this year, and last year she gave us a total of $12,500. And for a program as small as ours, that's huge."