Kelby Bowman remembered by those he touched
Brookhaven and the fraternity of football coaches throughout the state are mourning the death of Kelby Bowman this week.
A native of Brookhaven who coached at his alma mater among other stops, Bowman was in his second season as a teacher and coach at Northwest Rankin High School. He passed away Wednesday at his home.
A 1996 graduate of Brookhaven High, Bowman was an All-State honorable mention linebacker at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
After graduating from Co-Lin, he signed with then Belhaven College (University) which had just started its football program from scratch.
The Blazers wasted no time as they came out of the gate as a tough, upstart NAIA program. Former head coach Norman Joseph says that Bowman was a big reason for that.
“He was absolutely one of my all-time favorites that I ever coached,” said Joseph.
Belhaven won four games their first season and then seven the following year which is still the school record for victories in a single season.
Joseph says the impact Bowman had on the field was that of a difference-maker.
“We recruited seven players from Co-Lin for our first team and we signed all of them,” said Joseph. “All three of our starting linebackers were from Co-Lin and Kelby was the anchor of the group. He was a leader from the moment he stepped foot on campus.”
Bowman then started his college coaching career at Belhaven before being hired at East Mississippi Community College in 2001.
For six years, Bowman was on the staff at EMCC serving as running backs coach, linebackers’ coach and defensive coordinator during his time in Scooba.
Next up for Bowman was the chance to coach at his alma mater as he served as defensive coordinator at Brookhaven High from 2008-10 for head coach Tucker Peavey.
It’s hard to quantify the impact that Bowman had during his time at Brookhaven High. In 2010 BHS made a memorable run to the 5A state title game.
The Panthers were among the heavyweights in the state during that time and as good as his defenses were — his impact off the field was even greater.
Former BHS assistant coach Jaymie Palmer says Bowman had desires for his players that went above what happened on the field.
“He wanted to help guide his players into being becoming fine Christian men,” said Palmer.
A strong faith in Christ and the name Kelby Bowman were synonymous with each other as the former Panther made a huge mark at his alma mater.
E.J. Henderson was a captain on that 2010 BHS team as a starting cornerback. Today Henderson is a coach at Brookhaven High himself and the relationship he had with Bowman is a major reason why he chose the profession.
“The example that he set and the enthusiasm that he had for the game of football and for his players,” said Henderson. “You just wanted to do whatever he asked of you because you knew he was willing to do the same for you.”
As a young coach now, Henderson has always seen Bowman ahead of him, serving as an example of the type of leader he wants to be.
“He always kept God first in everything,” said Henderson. “As much as he loved football and loved his team, you knew that God and his family were the most important things in his life.”
In 2010 that BHS team found themselves with a 6-4 record when the postseason began. They started the playoffs on the road at Long Beach as they were the no. 4 seed out of Region 3-5A.
They beat Long Beach by two on the road and then avenged a loss to Wayne County in the regular season with a 21-14 overtime win in the second round.
In the south state championship game, they beat West Jones by one point after losing 31-0 to the Mustangs earlier in the season.
It was something like a movie as Ole Brook ended up in the 5A state championship.
Henderson remembers Bowman and the BHS staff instilling a message in them that season that still sticks today.
“Keep swinging,” said Henderson. “That’s what they kept telling us to do. It didn’t matter if we won or lost the week before, coach Bowman would start practice off Monday by letting us know we had to keep swinging.”
In 2013 Bowman and Peavey reunited at Southwest Mississippi Community College. Peavey had been hired as the head coach after taking a break from coaching. Bowman stayed on and served as defensive coordinator at BHS in 2011 for Wade Henderson before leaving to take the same job at Madison Central.
Peavey hired Bowman to be his DC in Summit where the pair worked together for five years.
“He was as dependable as a person can be,” said Peavey.
The relationship between the two started when Bowman was playing at BHS and Peavey was coaching and recruiting for UL-Monroe.
They kept in touch over the years through phone calls and seeing one another at clinics.
“I kept up with him when he was at East Mississippi and when Rod Henderson left us to go into administration full time Kelby came in and we started what became a great friendship,” said Peavey.
Bowman kept his same passion for young people as he joined the junior college football ranks, which can be a cutthroat league as some teams and coaches do whatever they can to sign the best players.
None of that changed Bowman.
“He was always true to his faith no matter what the situation,” said Peavey. “It didn’t’ matter what anyone else was going to do, he was going to do what was right and what was godly.”
Palmer says his coworker was someone that was a spiritual mentor to him as well.
“Sometimes people will try to justify what they’re doing in regard to right and wrong,” said Palmer. “Kelby would never do that. He had standards that he was going to live by every day.”
Bowman is survived by his wife Pamela, daughter Keldri and son Kelby Jr.
His former college coach Joseph invokes a Chinese proverb when he talks about what Bowman has meant to him and so many other coaches and former players.
“If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain and if you want 10 years of prosperity grow trees,” said Joseph. “But if you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people. That’s the legacy that Kelby Bowman leaves behind. His investment in young and old alike has made a real impact on so many lives.”