StyckMan Officially 'Friend of Education'
by Bailey Darrow - Herald Citizen, Cookeville
COOKEVILLE -- When Greg "StyckMan" Owens first became involved in the DeKalb County marching band he had no idea that he would end up among the ranks of mayors, senators and lt. governors from across the state.
As Owens stood in front of more than 600 teachers to accept the 2010 Tennessee Education Association's Friend of Education Award, he became very aware, very fast.
"I want to clarify that I never felt unwelcome," Owens said. "But I was probably the most different person there. It was kind of terrifying."
The Friend of Education Award is given each year to one individual and one organization from across the state. Winners are selected from a list of nominees. Owens was nominated by the teacher's association in DeKalb County for his work, not only with the students there but for the work he does with students in schools across the Upper Cumberland area.
According to the TEA, "the Friend of Education Award is presented to an outstanding individual and an organization from a list of nominees submitted by our local associations throughout the state. The TEA Board of Directors created the Friend of Education Award as an annual recognition of a person and an organization whose leadership, acts and support have contributed significantly to the improvement of public education on a local or state level."
Owens attended DeKalb County High School and was a member of the marching band during his time as a student.
"Band for me kept me out of trouble because I was so deeply embedded in it," Owens said. "I sat through first, second, third, fourth and fifth period just waiting for band."
Standing in the band room at DeKalb County High School, Owens said he first became aware that music was really what he wanted to do. While Owens did not go on to become a professional musician, his work at local radio station 94.7 the Country Giant kept his eyes and ears on the music scene and allowed him to use his radio personality to both help and entertain local students.
The Country Giant team plays in charity basketball games to help schools raise money for special projects. Owens visits classrooms across the Upper Cumberland and reads to students, and he has become such a local celebrity among students that they often remember and approach him with special requests to have him visit their school.
When Owens' own children became involved in marching band, it was only natural for him to jump in with them. Now, he has become such a staple in the program that he has developed personal relationships with the students at Northside, the DCHS Fighting Tiger Marching Band, and the teachers and band instructor there. He is at every band competition, performance and just about every practice too.
"I do it all because I want to. It's fun," said Owens. "If it wasn't, if I didn't enjoy it, I don't think I could."
For him, it's also about promoting the arts in education and the skills the students learn from being involved in things like band.
"I talked to the band director that I had when I was in school, Mr. Randy Rhody and I told him, 'You helped make me a much better me than you did musician. I certainly hope you took that as a compliment, because it's very much meant as such'," Owens said. "I use so many of the 'skills' that were taught to me in band in my everyday life: how to win and be graceful, how to lose and still hold my head high, how to get along with others...the list goes on and on."
Owens believes that learning people skills and how to deal with every emotion is one of the most universal skills that band, or the arts in general, can teach students.
Students in DeKalb County start beginning band in the sixth grade. During this first year they learn how to hold their instruments and the basics of playing and reading music. In seventh grade, band members continue to grow and expand their skill set so that by eighth grade, they are ready to march in the high school band.
"It's cool to be the older, wiser eye that's not a parent," Owens said of his relationship with the kids.
He has helped the young musicians transition between different band directors who have entered and left the program and evolved into the "Visual Director." Through this, students in the DCHS marching band have developed a trust for Owens.
"I hear it all. Boyfriend stories. Teacher stories. It's just so cool that they trust me enough to tell me these things and ask my advice," Owens said. "Usually I will tell them, 'I will tell you what I think. You may not like it, but if you want to know I will tell you.'"
Owens first discovered that he had been nominated for the special TEA award completely by surprise. During a Peace Builders assembly at Northside, Owens gave a short speech to the students about helping others. Awards were given to students from each grade and then it was his turn. Owens was brought back up to the front of the group and presented with a few big surprises: his own peace builder's award, the first ever "Extra Miler Award" for going the extra mile in the Smithville and DeKalb County community, a declaration by the mayor of DeKalb County that Feb. 19, 2010 was "Greg Owens Day" accompanied by a special Key to the County plaque, and news that he had been nominated for the TEA Friend of Education Award along with a duplicate nomination book submitted to the TEA full of examples from across the Upper Cumberland of his involvement in the schools.
"I never thought I would win," Owens said. "Being nominated was huge enough."
A few weeks later, he received the letter announcing that he had been chosen as the 2010 TEA Friend of Education.
Past Friend of Education Award winners include Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell who won the award in 2006, Sumner County Senator Jo Ann Graves who won the award in 2004 and a host of other well known community figures.
Owens doesn't see himself leaving the students behind anytime soon. He plans to continue doing what he loves: helping others and supporting music and the arts in education.
"I'll stick around as long as they let me," Owens said.