Tag Archives: Tom Owen

Tom Owen: “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”

As a Staples High School student in the early 1970s, Tom Owen had great teachers. But, he admits, “I wasn’t as invested in them as they were in me.”

A self-described “jock” who claims football, skiing and baseball got him through school, it’s not surprising that Owen ended up coaching at his alma mater.

It’s harder to believe he also spent the past 36 years as a teacher there.

Owen retires this month after a storied career. He coached Wrecker golfers to 3 state championships — he was an all-around jock — and “15 or 20” boys and girls state skiing titles (he lost track during his 23- and 5-year Staples stints, with 8 years at his son and daughter’s Joel Barlow High School in between).

But his impact is even greater on countless special education students. He guided group after group from 9th grade to graduation — and remained their mentor far beyond.

Tom Owen, Staples High School Class of 1974.

Tom Owen, Staples High School Class of 1974.

It was an unlikely career for a kid who spent his freshman year at Norwich University — a private military school in Vermont.

“That didn’t go so well,” Owen laughs. “I thought I could ski every weekend, and carry on my high school shenanigans. Instead, I ended up walking thousands of tour duties.”

Transferring to Ohio University was a better choice. He joined the rugby team — a jock is a jock — and after sophomore year, told a counselor he wanted to be a phys. ed. teacher.

She suggested he look into a new field: special education. It appealed to him — particularly because he could coach after school.

Owen started as a Staples paraprofessional in 1979. That same year, Long Lots Junior High football coach Bob Yovan retired. His former school — the same place he’d met his future wife, Deb — handed the 24-year-old his 1st head coaching job.

He quickly realized how lucky he was. His 2 jobs — teaching and coaching — brought him in contact with tens of thousands of “amazing” people. “I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do this,” Owen says. “I had the greatest interactions with kids, parents and colleagues. I got to be a teacher for students, a counselor for families, an educator and a mentor.”

Tom Owen liked taking students out of the classroom. He believes learning can take place in many ways, and many places.

Tom Owen liked taking students out of the classroom. He believes learning can take place in many ways, and many places.

In the 1990s, he and longtime fellow teacher/friend/sidekick Diann Drenosky — who also retires this month — worked in a separate building near Staples’ 9 Building. “The Little House” provided an innovative way to teach both academic and living skills. The kids were tough, but Owen, Drenosky, paraprofessional Ann Rully and Westport Police youth officer Arnie de Carolis created a warm, family atmosphere there.

“It was a great program,” Owen says. “We were devastated when it ended.”

Generations of students are grateful that he and Drenosky remained a team. “We laughed a lot — at each other, and ourselves,” Owen recalls. “We cried some too. She’s a special person, and she touched so many people over the years.”

Coaching allowed Owen to reach other students, in different ways. “Looking back, I can’t believe the amount of time and emotional investment I put into it,” he says. Football and golf are demanding enough; he just shakes his head at the memory of “standing on the Southington ski slope at 9 p.m., when it’s minus-30 degrees.”

Much has changed over the past 36 years, of course. As a coach, he’s seen far greater parental involvement — for better and worse.

Tom Owen met Debbie Goustin -- his future wife -- at Long Lots Junior High School.

Tom Owen met Debbie Goustin — his future wife — at Long Lots Junior High School.

“Parents help a lot with organizing now,” he says, declining to discuss the negative aspects. “My parents basically just showed up at a few games.”

He has the special perspective of having attended the same school where he spent his entire teaching career.

“Things were so casual back then,” he says of his student days. “The stress level was way lower — maybe to a fault. The stress kids have today is over the top.

“We were much more independent. Our parents were way less involved. We solved things more on our own.”

He is not putting today’s teenagers down, he notes. “That’s just the way it is. I would have done better in school if I was under all the rules and regulations we have today. I definitely took advantage of the lack of discipline.”

But, he adds, “I wouldn’t do anything any differently.”

Owen’s free-spirited attitude continued into adulthood. At his retirement dinner, colleague Tony Coccoli said, “Every Tom Owen story ends with, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.'”

Coach Tom Owen, on the golf course.

Coach Tom Owen, on the golf course.

Retirement will give the self-described “jock” more time for sports. He and Deb’s children, Patrick and Lex, spend winters at Jackson Hole. Owen may become a ski instructor, and/or work in a golf pro shop.

“I’m 59 years old,” he says. “I’ve ‘gone to school’ for 54 of those years. This fall will be a big adjustment.

“I look forward to it. But I feel really, really fortunate to be part of Westport for so long.

“While you’re in the middle of it, things just happen. But now as I get away from it, I realize how in many ways, this town and school defined who I am.”

 

Staples Golfers Remember Andrew Accardi

Andrew Accardi died last October. A finance and marketing major at Villanova University, he was just 20 years old. For 15 years he’d fought neuroblastoma, a brutal childhood cancer.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

Andrew had been a beloved and important member of the Staples golf team. They — and other friends — formed Andrew’s Army, raising (with him) hundreds of thousands of dollars for research into the disease.

Andrew’s friends and teammates are honoring him in a more personal way, too.

Yesterday, they unveiled a bench and plaque. It’s located near the halfway house at Longshore — Staples’ home course — overlooking the 9th green, and down the fairway.

The plaque includes 3 words — “selfless, courageous, virtuous” — that, according to coach Tom Owen, epitomize Andrew.

Andrew Accardi's plaque and bench.

Andrew Accardi’s plaque and bench. (Photos/Sam Bender)

Owen and assistant coach Bill Walsh picked the spot for 2 reasons.

It is where they watched Andrew bravely finish a round in frigid weather. He refused to leave the course until he was done.

Now, it will be the spot where Staples and their opponents meet at the end of each match to total their scores.

Andrew’s father spoke yesterday, at the dedication.

“If I’m feeling selfish, afraid or less virtuous, I will sit here and have some peace,” Dr. Frank Accardi said.

“Knowing our son and brother, your friend and teammate, was loved and remembered by the people is so important. His spirit will help us get through tough times.”

 

Remembering Andrew Accardi

In mid-March 2008, a couple dozen boys were trying out for the Staples golf team. The wind chill was 20 degrees, and coach Tom Owen told them that if they wished, they could go inside. He would not hold it against them.

A 9th grader shook uncontrollably from the cold. But he refused to quit.

“I want to finish,” Andrew Accardi told Owen.

Despite his heart, his scores were not good enough to make the very talented squad. But Owen loved Andrew’s attitude, and asked him to be the team manager.

Andrew battled more than wind and cold that day. Since age 5 — nearly 10 years earlier — he’d been fighting neuroblastoma, a brutal childhood cancer.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

“Andrew never wanted sympathy or pity,” Owen says. “He never let on how much he was suffering. He just wanted a normal high school life.”

His golf teammates treated him exactly that way. They befriended him, joked with him, teased him.

The next year — as a sophomore — Andrew made the team. Despite frequent trips to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, he was a Staples golfer for the rest of high school.

He, Owen, and many friends and family members worked together on fundraisers for the hospital, to aid in neuroblastoma research. Over 4 years, “Andrew’s Army” raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After graduating in 2011, Andrew attended Villanova University, as a finance and marketing major. Just as at Staples, he quickly gained many friends and admirers.

This morning, Andrew lost his 15-year fight. He was 20 years old.

“I respect him greatly, for everything he did,” Owen says with emotion. “He inspired so many people. I hope kids who knew him learn never to take for granted what they have.”

Staples principal John Dodig agrees.

Andrew Accardi

Andrew Accardi

“I remember this small boy with a knit cap on. Sometimes he was here, and for weeks he was not. Each time he reappeared, students and adults welcomed him back. He walked around the building with a smile on his face.

“His biggest goal at that point in his life was to walk across the stage at graduation. Every teacher, administrator, and support person was determined to help him accomplish his goal.”

Andrew did walk across the stage. Dodig shook his hand. James Farnen, his assistant principal for 4 years, gave him a huge hug.

Andrew Felman — the current Staples golf captain — was a freshman when Andrew Accardi was a senior. When he heard the news this morning, the captain told Owen he wants the team to wear Andrew’s initials on their golf shirts this year.

What a great tribute. It will keep Andrew Accardi so close to their hearts.