Alum Gary Owen Makes a Heartfelt Visit Back to Talawanda

Whether you expected another cliche speech on drugs or another boring assembly, nobody expected what Gary Owen and Chris Herren had prepared for us. Tuesday, Aug. 30, Freshman and Sophomores were called to the PAC to hear about a topic that seemed to hit home for many of us.

As of 2015, 2,744 people have died of heroin overdoses in Ohio. Compare that to 2010 when the nationwide death total was 3,306. With these numbers on the rise, Owen made it clear he did not want his brother to “be another statistic.” In 2015, Owen lost his own brother to heroin. After mourning the loss of his own, Owen started rallying to make a difference. At an addiction rally in Washington D.C., Gary Owen met former NBA player Chris Herren and asked him if he would want to talk with him at schools about addiction. His answer was obvious.

Shortly after Owen gave his heartfelt speech, Chris Herren took the stage and spoke about his own addiction problems. Chris Herren, a former NBA player, struggled with addiction himself saying, “I overdosed four times.”

Chris Herren spoke words of encouragement by talking about his time in high school and how to prevent addiction. Herren left a much-needed question and answer time after his speech. When asked what hooked him on drugs, he answered with one word: pills. Herren told us how something that seemed so harmless such as taking painkillers, can lead to a world of addiction and hurt. By the time we left the PAC, it was visible how many students both Owen and Herren had touched that day.

Before his speech, I got the chance to sit down with Gary and talk to him about his time at Talawanda. Gary was born in Cincinnati and moved to the Talawanda School District when he was in fifth grade. Owen played baseball for his first two years of High School but he also wrestled and played football for all four years. Owen went into the Navy immediately after high school, but when he returned he achieved his lifelong dream of being a comedian. Today Owen tours the country telling jokes and doing what he loves.

I asked Gary what made him want to come back to Talawanda and talk to us about addiction and he admitted, “I can tell jokes in front of 2,000 people but I’m nervous to do it in front of a small crowd.” Owen wanted to talk to us because his brother died last year and his experience is important to him.

To finish his speech, Owen told us a story that not even his wife knew. One day while walking home from football practice on the train tracks Gary didn’t know if he wanted to jump on the train or jump in front of it. At that time in his life all he wanted was to be noticed. Thankfully someone did notice him–his Talawanda coaches. On his facebook page Owen posted “I’m a Talawanda Brave. Always will be…” Owen encouraged us to simply talk to people that we usually don’t talk with. He stressed that sometimes just asking how someone’s day is going can be enough to let that person know you care. One thing is for sure–Gary Owen cares about Talawanda.

“The Gary Owen Show” premieres on the BET Network Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 9:30 p.m.