”Warhorse Pride,” a familiar refrain for Owen graduates of all ages, was heavy in the air around the campus on Oct. 19.
Dozens of spectators gathered in the Owen media center at 5 p.m. to witness Kenny Ford, Bobby Ferguson and Mike “Yogi” McElrath enter the Swannanoa, Black Mountain and C.D. Owen High Schools’ Hall of Fame. A few hours later, on senior night, the Warhorses punctuated the occasion with 48-0 victory over conference foe Avery.
Hall of Fame chair Carl Bartlett introduced the group of inductees, headlined by Ford, who played at Owen and went on to win 230 games as the head coach of the football team during his 29 years on the sidelines.
During his introduction, John Knight, who was inducted into the hall in 2014 as a longtime golf, basketball and volleyball coach at Owen, said McElrath was a major contributor to athletics at the school through his "tireless work" in Swannanoa Valley youth sports. McElrath, who played football, baseball and basketball for the Warhorses from 63-67, was inducted as a community contributor, Knight said during his introduction.
"From 1980 until 2000 he was involved in working with hundreds of young men and generations of future Owen athletes," Knight said of McElrath. "He was in charge of setting the building blocks for those who would eventually star at Owen High School."
McElrath called the recognition a "huge honor."
"It seems like yesterday I had a bunch of kids I was trying to teach their left hand from their right," he said. "As I look back on it, I was blessed to be able to be brought up in the Swannanoa Valley."
Ferguson had the "strongest desire to win of any player I've ever seen," Bartlett told the audience during the ceremony.
"He came into the high school in 1970 and he's one of the few freshmen players - you could probably count them all on one hand - to come in and win a varsity letter in football," Bartlett said of Ferguson. "You have to have some skill and ability to do that."
By his sophomore season, Ferguson was all-county. As a senior in 1974, Ferguson was recognized as the top running back in Western North Carolina.
"In baseball Bobby was all-county, all-conference and the team batting champion for three years," Bartlett said. "He was also a WNC player of the week several times and the captain of the team for a couple of years. He was a North Carolina first team selection."
Ferguson attended Western Carolina University on a football scholarship and was offered a scholarship for baseball as well. He was a member of the Secret Service following his athletic career.
He operates an international security company in Tennessee today. Ferguson said it was an "honor and privilege" to be enshrined in the school.
"I grew up about 300 yards across the street," Ferguson said, motioning toward the Black Mountain Home for Children. "Me and about 60 of my closest friends."
Ferguson credited Don McKenzie, who had the longest tenure overseeing the home in its 114-year history, with mentoring him as a youth.
"He taught me everything I know about being a man, being a person and understanding what God means to you and what you should do for your community," Ferguson said.
He also expressed gratitude toward the teachers he had while attending Owen.
"The people who made the most difference in my life were the teachers of Owen High School," he said. "They made an impact on me that I'll never forget."
When Bill Mott went into the Hall of Fame in 2006, he was introduced by Ford, who played for him on the freshman team at Owen. Mott would go on to serve on Ford's coaching staff for 20 years.
"He guided the program to unprecedented honors," Mott said during his speech. "The Warhorses won 230 games, 14 conference championships, four undefeated regular seasons and never finished lower than third in the conference."
That's because Ford, who was also a longtime track coach for the Warhorses, was consumed with loyalty and driven to perfection, Mott said.
"People always say: 'You coached for Ford? What a funny guy, it must've been a lot of fun,'" Mott said. "In the real world, coaching with Kenny was work, work and long grueling hours of work."
Entering the hall was a proud moment for Ford, he said.
"I wrote a letter in college saying I was going to be the head football coach at Owen by the time I was 30," he said. "It also said I'd be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers by the time I was 40, but I was good right here."
Ford addressed the Warhorses in the locker room before the game, which was also senior night at Owen.
The Warhorses responded by jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead over Avery in front of a loud crowd that included the classes of 1978 and 2008. They took a 28-0 lead into the half on their way to a 48-0 route.
Senior Ty Davidson led the way with 112 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Frank Walsh recorded 77 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in his final home game as a Warhorse.
Owen improved to 3-5 overall with the win and 2-1 in the Western Highlands Conference, where they currently sit in third place.
The Warhorses head to Madison on Friday, Oct. 26 before their regular season finale at Mitchell on Nov. 2.