Owens left mark on campus and above the rim at H-SC

Fred Jeter | 3/28/2024, 6 p.m.
Former basketball star Ed Owens is now Mayor Owens.
Mayor Owens

Former basketball star Ed Owens is now Mayor Owens.

Remembered as one of Hampden-Sydney College’s all-time greats, Owens has served as mayor of South Boston since 2012.

He also is the owner of Ed Owens Insurance Agency in Halifax.

Despite a hectic schedule, the now 66-year-old saved time this past winter to follow his H-SC Tigers’ drive to the NCAA Division III championship game and a 31-3 record.

“I didn’t go to any games, but I kept up with it on the news on the Lynchburg stations – I saw the highlights,” he said. “There wasn’t much coverage at first … but as the team took off, the coverage took off with it.”

Known for his tremendous leaping, soft touch around the rim and scholarly ways, the 6-foot-6 Owens’ name remains all over the H-SC record book.

The psychology major was a three-time All-ODAC (1978-80) performer under Coach Don Thompson, accumulating 1,160 career rebounds — including 464 as a senior. He had an oh-my-gosh rebounding average of 15.1 per outing. Operating mostly in the shadows of the backboard, Owens led Division III in shooting percentage (.729) in 1979. The Tigers were 65-38 in his three varsity seasons.

A member of H-SC’s Athletic Hall of Fame, he played on the school’s JV team during the winter semester as a freshman.

Owens also left his mark on campus at H-SC, becoming the first president of the campus chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the oldest collegiate African-American fraternity.

So how did a Black kid from Southside Virginia get to almost all-white H-SC in the 1970s? This wasn’t too far removed from Prince Edward County’s disgraceful decision in 1959 to close its schools rather than integrate.

That continued until 1964 as white children went to private schools (mostly Prince Edward Academy, now Fuqua), leaving Black students to fend for themselves.

“At the time I don’t think I knew a lot about that,” Owens said. “But there was a funny incident on my first day on campus.

“Two of the white guys on the team were helping me move in … and then my roommate showed up … he asked which one of you (meaning the white players) were his roommate.

“It started off a little awkward – I think I slept with one eye open the first month, but we went on to become very close friends,” Owens said.

This all happened a bit by chance.

“Coming out of Halifax (High) I didn’t want to play any more basketball … I wanted to become an M.D., a psychiatrist, and went to Old Dominion on an academic scholarship,” he said.

During a holiday trip home, he ran into Coach Thompson, who had been the coach at Halifax before taking the H-SC job.

“If I was interested in playing for Hampden-Sydney, Coach Thompson asked me to send a letter … I did … he sent a letter straight back,” Owens said.

H-SC plays in Division III, meaning no athletic scholarships, but Owens’ sparkling transcript, and the fact he came from a “challenging background,” as he put it, made it work.

“They found some money,” he said.

Before long, Owens was wearing a Tigers uniform and playing above the rim at cramped Gammon Gym, long-ago replaced by the more spacious Fleet Gym.

Among the tallest men on campus, as well as being much involved academically and with the fraternity, Owens was always an easy man to find at H-SC.

He’s easy to catch up with now, too. If you’re ever around South Boston, just ask for the mayor.