Iconic coach calls it quits

Published 11:50 am Thursday, June 20, 2019

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The day that no one around the Davie wrestling program could ever imagine arrived on June 13, when Buddy Lowery announced his retirement as wrestling coach, ending a 43-year era.

From 1976-77 through 2018-19, the wrestlers came and went, the years passed and winning became monotonous. The only thing that didn’t change was the old, old school head coach.

“I always figured Buddy would coach up until his last breath,” said Matt Wilson, who assisted Lowery from the late ‘80s through the early 2000s.

Lowery, 66, is one of the few people who legitimately deserves to have the word “legend” attached to his name. Not only did he build a model wrestling program, he was Davie’s athletic director for a long time and he did a ton of thankless, behind-the-scenes work for the athletic department, like painting the lines on the football field, doing all the dirty work and taking up money at sporting events. If you wanted to find Lowery in the afternoon, your best bet was to go outside and look around the fields. He was probably mowing the grass. He is blue-collar to his core.

Although no one loves anything more than Lowery loves wrestling, Father Time is undefeated. He’s been battling foot problems for about a year. Last summer he had issues with his foot. Now he’s having serious problems with his other foot.

Lowery said: “For the last 10 weeks I’ve been riding around on a scooter because I had a bone removed from my foot (because of a bone spur). I’m just trying to get my foot well and get healthy. I’ve got to take care of myself a little bit. A lot of people don’t realize how much time you put in. I’m going to try to get healthy.”

Larry Groce was Davie’s first wrestling coach in 1969-70. Then came Frank Nader and Steve Roeder, a revolving door of three coaches in seven years. Davie was nothing special in those days.

Then in the fall of 1976, in walked a hulking, 23-year-old new coach fresh off a football career at East Carolina. Lowery was the epitome of no-nonsense and he brought a scowl that could frighten a scarecrow. He grabbed Davie wrestling with both hands and shook it into something different.

The journey to big-time winning was bumpy the first three years – Davie finished 7-7, 5-10 and 6-7 – but the foundation was laid by the fourth season. The War Eagles went 9-4 in 1979-80, and all these years later their streak of winning seasons stands at 40.   

Lowery’s final numbers are so incredible they look like typos. His overall record is 913-136-2. Moving up from the North Piedmont 3-A Conference in 1985-86, the War Eagles went 177-7-1 in the Central Piedmont 4-A Conference over 34 years. They captured 27 regular-season championships. They also claimed 19 CPC Tournament championships, giving Lowery a total of 46 conference titles. They won 15 regional crowns.

Lowery’s boys brought home three state championships, the only program at the school to earn state titles since Davie joined the NCHSAA in 1977. Old Lady Luck should have delivered more, but the law of averages did not help in tear-your-heart-out jobs against Cary in 1993, Riverside in 1995 and Cary again in 2005.

The perennial powerhouse won 72 consecutive regular-season matches in the early ‘90s, it ripped off 49 straight wins from 1993-95, put together a 42-match winning streak in 2004-05 and enjoyed CPC winning streaks of 43 matches in the early ‘90s and 42 in the early 2000s.

Lowery: “I’m just a small part of it. I’ve had good assistants that helped me and good feeder programs. My assistants have done an excellent job, especially the last 10 years because I retired (as a PE teacher) 10 years ago and I depended on my assistants a whole bunch.”

Even though Lowery averaged just three losses per year, he was a shining example of grace in defeat – even when defeat meant the end of the season, even when defeat meant his team fell one step short of the state championship.

His War Eagles lost the most painful way possible on multiple occasions with the state title hanging in the balance, and he settled for 11 state-runner-ups in all. In those character-testing moments when Davie fell a hair short, a lesser person would have been tempted to go rob a bank. Lowery didn’t chase the officials out of the gym, screaming that he got hosed. He never made excuses. He shook the other coach’s hand and told his team: “Get better. Work harder. Get ‘em next time.” In times of crushing heartache, as reporters were interviewing the winning side, Lowery would always wait around in the gym or hallway for reporters to get to him, and then he’d politely rehash what happened. (By contrast, there was a now-retired football coach from a CPC rival who would jog to the bus after a tough loss. If reporters wanted to hear what he had to say, they had to literally get it on the run.) Lowery is a stand-up guy. He is truly one of a kind.

Right now he is sick and tired of his recliner. He hopes to be back on his feet in a month of so. He doesn’t plan on becoming a stranger to the 2019-20 team.

Lowery: “I won’t be there every day, but I’ll be at practice. The way I figured it, I told my wife (Tara): ‘I can go work out in the morning, come home, get a shower, go get a biscuit or something and be at the match before weigh-ins are over.”

Inquiring minds what to know this: Who will replace a man who left the broadest footprint in the history of Davie sports?

Davie athletic director Mike Absher: “It’s a great job. He’s obviously left the program in a great spot. Obviously, it’s a very, very important position for us to fill.”

The legendary feats are endless. Lowery is a member of three halls of fame (Davie High Athletic HOF, Salisbury-Rowan County HOF and the North Carolina Chapter of the National HOF).

He coached 11 wrestlers who accounted for 15 individual state championships. He coached 14 state runner-ups. He coached 16 bronze medalists. He watched 44 guys reach the 100-win milestone for their career.

Tributes poured in after the shocking news of Lowery’s resignation. Brian Murphy, a football/wrestling athlete from the Class of 1998, said:

“There are too many memorable moments to mention, but the greatest thing that I ever took from Coach Lowery was something that I still live by: Never get satisfied. He said it often because it was his way of motivation for us who were getting pretty good as a way to make us better. Sure, we had won a big match or beaten a highly-ranked opponent, but he kept pushing us, challenging us to get better.

“This is my approach to training now. After my first triathlon in 2007, I realized I was capable of more, culminating in a full Ironman two years later. Again, never get satisfied. A lot of people would’ve hung it up; there’s nothing more to accomplish. Never get satisfied. I set out for Ironman No. 2 just to improve, to beat my old time. And I did. By over an hour.

“I ran a marathon in 3:23, missing the Boston Marathon qualifying time by 23 minutes. Could I train a little harder, mentally and physically, to do that? I just did in April because I wasn’t satisfied with ‘almost.’

“Coach Lowery’s impact on my life went far beyond wrestling. Not only as an endurance athlete but raising my family and honoring my wife. Live simply, work hard, love your family and never get satisfied. He is as gentle as a kitten but can roar like a lion, and I’m forever grateful for the influence he had on me.”

Before Timmy Allen became an assistant coach, he won a state championship at 171 in 2005 and clinched the 2006 dual-team state title with a pin while having a torn ACL.

Allen: “I could tell you a million stories about coach Lowery. I been blessed to have been able to wrestle for coach Lowery as well as coach right alongside of him. He is one of the most humble, loyal, honest and genuine people I have ever been around. He won all these matches and championships because he did it the right way. He never cut corners or made excuses or beat around the bush; he just did it. If you weren’t doing what you were supposed to do, he let you know and he pushed you and made you  better. I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today or where I am today if it was not for him. I can remember thinking in high school that I hope one day I can be a legend just like him. He had a way of always getting the best out of you. I know I wouldn’t have won my individual state title if it wasn’t for him, and I know for sure I wouldn’t have wrestled after I tore my ACL if it wasn’t for him. I wanted to wrestle for him and my team.”

Scotty Spry, who is the all-time greatest with three state titles and a 101-3 record from 1992-95, said:

“Buddy – the best man a wrestler could ask for as a coach and friend. He has done a lot for me and others. I hate to see this man retire, but he needs some time to sit back and watch matches without standing 24-7.”

Doug Illing, Davie’s winningest football coach from 1998-2012, said:

“Buddy is a legend. He has influenced and toughened up thousands of young men in preparing them for a successful life. I’m honored to have shared the tractor cutting grass and walked the halls at DC with coach Lowery.”

Kendall Chaffin wrestled on the state runner-up team in 1989 and also played football at Davie and Wingate College. He is in the Wingate and Davie halls of fame.

“He is one of the greatest men/coaches to ever grace a sideline or a wrestling mat. Coach Lowery is the very best coach that I have ever had at any level. He taught me so many life lessons.”

Monte Taylor is a retired teacher/coach who said:

“I coached football with Buddy during the ‘80s. He coached defensive line and I coached DBs. A favorite saying of his was: ‘You can’t pass when you are on your ass.’ Another was: ‘Be good or be gone.’ We were a close staff and had lots of fun with coaches (Bill) Peeler, (Mike) Carter, (Marty) Hemric, (Rex) Allen, (John) Bullins, (Dan) Henderson and others. Buddy is one of the best men I know. A Buddy Lowery wrestler was never cocky or arrogant no matter how good he was. Buddy saw to that.”

Lowery was coaching DL when the big Jacobs brothers came through in the ‘80s. Chris Jacobs played football at UNC and is currently a 27th-year coach. He has been at Ouachita Junior High in Monroe, La., the last six years.

“Coach Lowery was an awesome man and coach. He’s one of the main influences on my life, how I coach and why I coach. Oh, and I’ve got a little Peeler and Lowery in me because guess who mows the grass?”

No one sat on the bench beside Lowery longer than Matt Wilson.

“Back in the early ‘90s, we were wrestling in the King of the Mat tournament at North Davidson,” Wilson said. “After having a bad quarterfinal round and only winning six of the 12 weight classes, coach Lowery called a team meeting in the locker room. Coach Lowery spent a good part of the break dressing down the entire team and one middleweight wrestler in particular (I’m sure he remembers to this day). I won’t confirm nor deny the fact he could have used some colorful language. However, after he spoke to the team and without missing a beat he turned to his young son, Patrick, and said: ‘Don’t tell ya Momma.’”

An illustrious era is over. On June 14 Lowery woke up as a guy who used to coach Davie wrestling. Oh, the show will continue. Come October, the practice room will see proven returners and promising newcomers come together. They will take aim at winning the CPC for the third year running. But without Buddy Lowery calling the shots and working the sideline, the show will never be quite the same.