For 20 years, Roger Lower has avoided the spotlight in much the same fashion a vampire hides from the sun.
He’s not about personal glory. No, far from it.
He’s a coach, plain and simple – a throwback to the days when a coach coached and let the players reap the benefits.
The retiring coach’s most memorable postgame comment was a classic: “I just sit on a bucket (of softballs) during a game, wake up after the win and shake the other team’s hands.”
That gem was part of the most memorable season in Missouri State High School Activities Association history when his 31-0 Class 4 state championship Wildcats became the first – and only – big class team to win a state championship with a perfect record in 2008.
He was sitting on that bucket of softballs for three state championships, 11 conference and district crowns and 458 victories.
He’s also been a part of four Blue Springs sports that have reached the state final four – softball (three championships, serving as head coach), boys and girls basketball and baseball (two state crowns, serving as an assistant in all three sports).
His softball teams averaged 23 wins a season for two decades and his girls learned as much about life as the game they mastered from the man who is walking away from coaching and teaching after a stellar career.
“You know what makes Roger so special?” said Kelly Donohoe, Blue Springs assistant activities director and head football coach. “The consistency of his teams. You just know that every year, his girls are going to win 20 games and make a run to state. And that is so hard to do. He has achieved for 20 years what the rest of us strive for.
“He won with class and has created an atmosphere of winning that all of his players were so lucky to be a part of.”
Girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli, who had Lower on his bench during much of the team’s success, including five straight final four appearances, said it’s going to be tough to say goodbye to a great assistant coach, and even tougher to say goodbye to a close friend.
“I don’t want to make Roger feel old,” Spigarelli said, “but I view him like my dad. When I have stuff I need to talk about, stuff that I really need to run by to get an opinion – an opinion I value and trust – I talk with Roger. This office is going to be a lot different without Roger. He’s always going to be my friend – and I wish he was always going to be on my staff.”
After a career in law enforcement, Lower decided to take a different route in his life and test the waters of education.
“I liked working with kids and I wanted to coach, so I started coaching and teaching in Raytown for six years,” Lower said. “Then softball was moved from the spring to the fall and Marc Hines – who was the Blue Springs High School’s softball coach and an assistant football coach – gave up coaching the softball team so he could still coach football.
“(Former Blue Springs principal) Ted Lewman and I had a conversation and he asked if I was interested in coming over to Blue Springs to coach softball,” Lower said, grinning. “I said, ‘Let’s see, you have an all-state pitcher (Brandi Kessler) and all-state catcher (Courtney Walters) coming back. Yeah, I might be interested.’
“Heck, I couldn’t say, ‘Yes,’ fast enough.”
And one of the most successful coaching journeys in the history of Blue Springs High School began with a bang as that 1996 softball team won the first of Lower’s state titles.
“I still remember our first game, a 1-0 victory against Winnetonka in 11 innings,” Lower said. “I knew it was going to be fun. We played them again in the state semis and won again, 1-0.”
One of his most memorable victories came in that unforgettable 31-0 2008 campaign when the seemingly unbeatable Wildcats trailed Webb City 3-0 in a rain-drenched semifinal game in St. Joseph, Mo,
“The weather was horrible and Webb City was in a nice, warm hotel and we were on a cold bus, waiting hours to play the game,” Lower recalled. “We were down 3-0, 3-2, 4-2 and 5-4. The only time we led was when we won it in the bottom of the ninth (on Jocelyn Price’s two-out RBI single).”
The Wildcats followed that win with a 7-1 victory over Parkway South to wrap up the most successful season in big class softball history.
“It’s been a great run, and it was just time to walk away and let someone else take over the program,” said Lower, who is passing the baton to his longtime assistant, Jim Brandner.
“I’m proud of all the success, but even prouder of what so many of the girls have done after graduating from Blue Springs High School and going on and doing great things with their lives.”
If you really want to get a smile out of Lower, ask him about his three sons – Kory, Kyle and Kurt.
“Oh yeah, the ‘Special K’s – and let’s not forget about my wife, Karen (who recently retired after a 32-year career as a teacher),’” Lower said, beaming from ear to ear. “Kory teaches at the Freshman Center and coaches junior varsity softball, junior varsity girls basketball and varsity track at Blue Springs South.
“Kyle teaches at Paul Kinder (Middle School) and is the assistant varsity boys basketball coach here at Blue Springs. He also coaches eighth grade girls track. And Kurt teaches at William Bryant (Elementary) and coaches freshman basketball at South. I couldn’t be any more proud of them. They know so much more about coaching and dealing with kids than their old man ever could imagine.”
A fierce competitor, Lower lost his final prep contest when Kory’s junior varsity South girls basketball team downed his Wildcats at Blue Springs High School. While the score might be long forgotten, their attire will live forever.
A longtime friend of Lower’s, Game Time Graphics general manager David Curtis, ordered custom-fit, made-to-order suits that featured each of the respective coach’s team colors – royal blue for Kory and shocking purple for his dad.
“The suits? You’re going to mention the suits?” a grinning Lower said, shaking his head. “David came over to our house and said, ‘I have something for you.’ And he brought out the suits – and we wore them. I’m actually glad you’re mentioning them because I want everyone to know – who was at that game – that I only wore that suit because it was a gift from one of my best friends. And Kory looked much better in his than I did in mine.”
Lower had a ready answer for one final question: What are the fondest memories after a 20-year career that most individuals could only dream about?
“The relationships – with my players, their parents, our coaches and fans,” he responded, “those are the things I’ll always remember, the things that will always be special.”