70-year-old game management assistant keeps athletics running smoothly for GV ‘family’

Brady Fredericksen

With two days to go until football season begins at Grand Valley State University, Al Owens was cruising around campus delivering two-way radios to football and marching band personnel in preparation.

Whether he’s delivering radios or throwing a tarp over the football field before a rainy evening, the school’s 70-year-old game management assistant definitely has a unique job at GVSU.

“I get to interact with so many people; everyone from students to university presidents,” said Owens, who attended Marquette University from 1958-60. “Our mission in Game Operations is to make sure everyone who attends an athletic event here at GVSU has a positive experience and leaves with a smile on their face — win or lose.”

In order for those smiles to appear, Owens and the rest of the Game Operations personnel have to make sure everything is in exceptional shape for game day.

“We do a lot of the detail tasks involved with setting up for sports like football, track, volleyball and basketball,” said Owens, who has been working directly with the athletic teams at GVSU since 1999. “From fixing bleachers to getting the field house or stadium prepared for a game, a lot of what we do is in conjunction with sports information and grounds; it’s a team effort.”

Invited on by former sports information director Don Thomas, Owens joined the GVSU team in 1989 as a volunteer track official and scoreboard operator for the football squad.

After being hired part-time in 1999, Owens has continued to work at the school as the game management assistant.

“This is a good job for an old retired guy with nothing to do,” joked Owens, who retired from a career as an industrial pipe salesman in 1999. “I really do love interacting with everyone though. The camaraderie we have here is great.”

For a 70-year-old man whose job is almost constantly on the go, Owens is always smiling and saying hello to students around campus.

“The best part of my job is being around the kids and the student-athletes,” said Owens, who also officiates high school football and track. “I love it when school starts because that means there are new students and student-athletes to meet and get to know.”

Owens’ impact on the school’s athletics spread beyond his hands-on duties. Josh Munk, assistant director of Athletics for Game and Event Management, works side by side with Owens on a daily basis and said Game Operations is an important cog in the school’s athletic machine.

“Al is a very loyal guy and he really enjoys being involved with Laker Athletics and working within the campus community,” Munk said. “Our team’s are our priority, and the fewer things the coaches have to worry about, the more they can worry about their teams.”

Even with all the success at GVSU, Owens and the rest of the athletic department have shown a strength and courage necessary through the toughest of times.

“In my first official year working here, three individuals within the athletic programs lost their lives,” Owens said. “That was tough on everyone involved, and once the grieving process went its course, we came out of that stronger than ever.”

Whether he’s motoring around campus on a golf cart or running around the field house, one has to wonder why Owens continues to come to work with a pep in his step and a smile on his face.

“After we went through those deaths in 1999, I realized that this is a family here at GVSU,” Owens said. “That’s what I love the most.”

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