From Negro League baseball to NCAA coach

walt owens

Walter “Coach” Owens played for the Detroit Stars in 1953 -1955 during Negro League baseball’s declining years. Although he never wore a Major League uniform, he used the lessons he learned through his experiences to have a positive influence on young players.

Born on August 19, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio; Owens grew up in Detroit where baseball was segregated at the amateur and semi-professional levels. He played on three high school city baseball champions and received a basketball/track scholarship to Western Michigan University.

During the summer months while in college, he played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro American League (NAL). A pitcher and an outfielder, Owens played under an alias in order to keep his college amateur eligibility. Playing against the House of David one of those summers, he singled and struck out facing “Satchel” Paige. Although Owens was a good ballplayer, but former Negro League star and Detroit resident Turkey Stearnes, advised him to stay in school.

After graduating from college, Owens received an offer to play for the Indianapolis Clowns. He turned it down, began teaching school, and eventually became the baseball coach at Detroit’s Northwestern High School. Owens was a father figure for many of his players. Two of them, Willie Horton and Alex Johnson, went on to have successful Major League careers in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1976, Owens was named head baseball coach at Northern Illinois University (Mid-American Conference) and became one of a very few African Americans to run the baseball program at a majority white NCAA university at that time. NIU won 133 games in Owens’ seven years (1976 – 1982) as coach.

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