Jim McGowan leaned against the chain link backstop, surrounded by reminders of his championship past, his gaze trained on the promising present but his words focused on the future.
Billboards adorn the dugout at Fifth Avenue Elementary, where McGowan built the Bay Shore High School softball program into a dynasty. These monuments to seasons past tick off accomplishments so long they read like the nutrition label on a cereal box.
On this sun-drenched Saturday, the players warmed up in the outfield for a scrimmage as the coach paused for an interview. Yes, the Marauders have high expectations after losing in the Suffolk Class AA championship series a year ago. So much promise lay ahead.
But so does the finality of a decision the legendary coach made long ago. When his daughter Taylor McGowan graduates, he’ll move on.
“I’m done after next year,” said McGowan, 58, also a social worker at the school. “I just want to go out on top. It’s time.”
Taylor McGowan literally grew up in the Bay Shore dugout. The youngest of four children sat in a stroller behind home plate as mom Robin McGowan filmed games. And when she was old enough to stand up straight, Taylor McGowan assumed the role of mascot before growing into the job of team manager.
She finally stepped into the pitcher’s circle as an eighth grader, fulfilling what she was destined to do—pitch for the Marauders. She was the Suffolk League II pitcher of the year and a Newsday All-Long Island pick as a sophomore.
“I’ve been going to games for as long as I can remember,” Taylor McGowan said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I could not wait to be on the team.”
At the start of her junior campaign, she has just one goal—win.
Bay Shore has come frustratingly close the last few seasons. It lost in the 2006 state title game. In 2007, the Marauders fell to Long Beach in the Long Island championship game. The 2008 team lost to West Babylon in the county semifinals. And last year Brentwood beat Bay Shore in the county championship series. Long Beach, West Babylon and Brentwood each won state titles.
“We’re getting closer each year,” Taylor McGowan said. “This is our year. Each year we lost to the eventual state champion. It’s our turn.”
The numbers are astounding. Jim McGowan has won 609 games, 23 league, 11 Suffolk County, nine Long Island and six state championships in 27 seasons.
Yet his greatest legacy has little to do with wins, titles or accolades. Look around Long Island and you will see a softball landscape redefined by the in-your-face taskmaster. He’s tutored pitchers for rival schools. Two sons are successful high school softball coaches. Two former players coach (and countless others are assistants, coached in the past or are mainstays in different sports). And when McGowan steps aside after the 2011 season, another former Bay Shore pupil will succeed him in Jackie Pasquerella.
“My [players] are my judgment,” McGowan said. “I love my kids and respect my kids. That’s my legacy. Hopefully I made a difference in their lives.”
It’s a living legacy that says more about the man than any plaque ever could. His influence will live on long after his accomplishments become forgotten clutter in the trophy cases at Bay Shore High School.
Truth is, no one has won more high school softball games in state history than McGowan. And he’s done it his way—equal parts motivational speaker and drill sergeant with a dash of Martha Stewart perfectionism. His gruff act has drawn plenty of critics over the years.
“A lot of times [the criticism is] unwarranted,” said son Jimmy McGowan, in his 10th season as the Hauppauge softball coach. “If he was 12-10 every year people would say he gets the most out of his talent. The fact that he goes 25-2? People like winning but they don’t like winners. That’s a big part of it with him.”
“Jim is a tremendous student of the game and really works at it,’’ Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said. “He always has the kids’ best interests at heart. He’s old school and uncompromising in his values, which kids today need.”
The supporters are winning out. McGowan will be inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame on May 6.
“It’s about time,” said son Jason McGowan, a third-year softball coach at Plainedge. “I don’t know why it took this long. It’s a huge accomplishment. But he deserves it.”
Back on the field, McGowan gathered his team in a circle and went over a mental checklist before the scrimmage. Preparation is an important ingredient to his success. Little wonder why he owns an incredible .888 winning percentage and the longest winning streak in state softball history (54 wins from 1994-95 with Pasquerella in the lineup).
“Practice makes perfect,” Taylor McGowan said. “That’s what he’s been telling me since I was 7.”
Oh, Jim McGowan has a saying for every occasion.
“Our motto this year is: No better time, no better team,” the elder McGowan said. “The name of the game is pitching and we have two All-Long Island pitchers. I feel good about this team. ”
The coach knows the clock is ticking. After three decades of kicking clay, taking on umpires, developing talent and hoisting championship plaques, the end is near. He’ll tackle it on his terms.
“I try to emulate what he does and hopefully I can be half as successful,’’ Jimmy McGowan said.
He’s already there. Hauppauge reached the Suffolk Class A championship series last season while Plainedge advanced to the second round of the Nassau Class A playoffs. So long as a McGowan is on a softball field somewhere on Long Island, past, present and future remain perfectly aligned.