John Bowen has resigned as Ballston Spa’s varsity football coach after leading the Scotties through a ground-breaking 11-year stretch.
The 42-year-old father of three oversaw Ballston Spa’s jump from Class A to Class AA ball, where his teams won or shared three league titles and enjoyed playoff success for the first time in program history.
His teams put together a 60-40 overall record, had eight winning seasons, and on 10 occasions qual-ified for the Section II playoffs.
“I have three football-playing sons, and the past year for me, personally, it was very difficult to be away from them,” Bowen said of the boys, ages 11, 9 and 6.
“The core of my being is wrapped around my faith and my family, with football as a blanket. There was a void there, and from my standpoint, I feel there was an obligation I was not fulfilling as a father.
“I need to be around them, and I’m very much at peace with my decision.”
Bowen, a physical education teacher at Ballston Spa and the high school’s dean of students, met with his players Thursday.
“I told them, ‘In order to give to my kids, I’d have to take away from you,’ ” Bowen said. “I didn’t think it would be fair to do that. Something’s got to give somewhere along the line.”
Ballston Spa crossed a line of sorts in the fifth week of the 2004 season, when it went toe-to-toe with an unbeaten and bigger Shen-endehowa team in a 24-21 loss.
That was Ballston Spa’s first year as a member of the Section II Class AA league.
Ballston Spa was first classified AA in 2003, but competed during the regular season against Class A and B teams as a member of the Foothills Council.
“That was probably the best football game I have been involved with. We lost to Shenendehowa by three, and it was an unbelieveble game,” said Bowen.
“That game gave the people of Ballston Spa the belief and attitude that we can play with any Class AA team out there. It vaulted us into our run.”
Ballston Spa enjoyed success under Bowen despite always being among the smallest Class AA schools, and he rarely had a large number of athletes to work with.
“My largest roster was in 2003 when we had 42 players, but from that point on, it was never like that again,” said Bowen. “I remember in 2007 we went to Troy for a playoff game with 23 kids.”
Ballston Spa won that quarterfinal game, 34-21. That was among 33 wins Bowen’s teams recorded from 2006-10.
LaSalle was the only other area Class AA school to win that many during those five years.
“It speaks volumes about our school and our community, the toughness the kids showed,” said Bowen.
“By design we never made it easy on them, and the boys who were able to stick it out and sustain, they were warriors for us. They were guys you’d want to walk with you down a dark alley.”
Defenses that swarmed to the ball and the flexbone offense, which relies on line quickness and quarterback decision-making more than size and brute strength, became trademarks of Bowen’s teams.
He switched from a multiple-set offense to the option-based flexbone in 2006.
“We thought we had a team that could be successful in 2005. We played an 0-4 Guilderland team, and they punched us in the mouth. They won the game, 13-6,” said Bowen, whose Scotties went 4-5 that year.
“That night we said we’re not going to sustain in Class AA year in and year out unless we do something different. We needed to come up with something that would enable us to win when, man for man, we weren’t as big as our opponents. We believed it could level the playing field.”
With Dom Monaco at quarterback in 2006, Mark Seager calling the shots in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and Troy Gargiulo at the helm in 2010, Ballston Spa put up fabulous offensive numbers while compiling a 33-13 record.
Ballston Spa shared the Class AA Division II title with Colonie in 2006 and put together a six-game win streak behind Seager, the Daily Gazette’s All-Area first-team quarterback.
The streak included a playoff-game victory for the first time when it beat Queensbury — Bowen’s alma mater — in a Class quarter-final contest, 31-21.
The Scotties also prevailed in quarterfinal games in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The 2009 team’s playoff resume included a 21-14 quarterfinal victory over Bethlehem and a 42-9 semi-final triumph over Guilderland before Saratoga Springs topped the Scotties in the Super Bowl, 31-7.
Only one Ballston Spa edition had played in a Section II title game before, in 1978, when the Scotties dropped a 34-21 Class B decision to Johnstown.
“During those five years we were the only Class AA team to make the semifinals four times, and we were the winningest program with LaSalle,” said Bowen. “Unfortunately we don’t have a gold plaque to put on the ball, but we had a good run there.”
Ballston Spa had been 0-9 in playoff games before the breakthrough win against Queensbury, including setbacks in each of the first three seasons under Bowen.
Ballston Spa went 8-2 in 2009 and finished with a No. 21 state ranking.
Ballston Spa logged 7-2 records in 2004, 2006 and 2007, went 6-3 in 2003 and again in 2010 when it won the outright Class AA Empire Div-ision championship, and finished 5-4 in 2008 and 2011.
The Scotties went 2-7 this past season, yet managed to reach the playoffs for the final time under Bowen when they beat Saratoga in the last week of the regular season, 34-0.
Ballston Spa went 3-6 in 2002 and 4-5 in 2005.
“Next fall I’ll still be coaching football, whether it’s youth league or at the school in a smaller role,” said the Schuylerville resident and graduate of Springfield College.
Bowen honed his craft under the legendary Brent Steuerwald at Shenendehowa while serving as the school’s junior varsity coach for five years (1997-2001).