If you’ve been to a Jeffersonville High School basketball game in the last 50 years, you know him. He’s the tall, slender fella in the varsity jacket hooting and hollering for the Red Devils. With his loud boom of a voice, at times you wonder if the angels don’t shudder from his heralding.
Yet his presence somehow remains a reassuring constant in the Jeff High gym. Coaches change. Players graduate. Sectionals are won and lost. But Cowboy, despite the ups and downs of his favorite team, always seems to stay the same.
This spring, Gary “Cowboy” McCowan will be honored alongside approximately 30 other notable Jeffersonville citizens on a new wall that will surround the pump station at the entrance to the city at 10th and Spring streets. Mayor Mike Moore said photographs will also be posted of the honorees, some of which will include teachers, Medal of Honor winners and business leaders.
“Gary is a prominent citizen in our town and I want him recognized,” said Moore. “He will forever be remembered on the walls as you enter into the city.”
Like with all good legends, few people have heard the real story of the Red Devil’s No. 1 fan. Since 1955, Gary’s been faithfully coming to Jeffersonville High School basketball games. Back then, his family lived near the downtown gym when hoops were played at Nachand Fieldhouse.
Gary caught the basketball bug early. Days would be spent in his youth sitting around the corner barbershop talking about sports. Always helpful, he’d volunteer to sweep up the floor and then get back to the conversation. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did, Gary would talk with you, especially if it was about local hoops.
“He talks to everybody. It doesn’t matter who it is,” said Dick Jones, a schoolmate of Gary’s. “Everyone knows him. He’s always been like that, even as a kid. He has never changed.”
Sitting at a table in downtown Jeff this summer, Gary talked about his childhood. Entering high school, something did change for the freshman. He got a nickname. His brother Jerry was known as Cowboy growing up. Like an outgrown coat, the moniker was handed down to Gary. Now 71, he’s much more apt to be called Cowboy walking down the street than by his given name.
“Everyone in Jeffersonville knows Cowboy,” said Gary’s former high school teacher Mick Hennegan. “He’s not self-conscious. He’d rather be known as Cowboy. That’s his reputation.”
After graduating Jeff in 1962, Gary worked at various jobs. But his main love always has been Jeff High athletics. The man’s a walking sports library. In the rolodex of his mind, stats come out as clear as if they had happened yesterday.
Still, he has his preferences. Gary’s favorite game each year is the match-up of Jeff and rival New Albany. And who was the best baller ever to play at the school? According to Gary, former Mr. Basketball Mike Flynn wins hands down.
“Mike Flynn is my boy. He’s my boy,” Gary said. “He scored 51 points against Providence, the last game of the season. He broke the record that year. That was in 1971.”
No one is keeping track in the books, but Gary might break the record himself for being Jeffersonville’s most renowned fan. Several years ago, a Facebook page was started to honor the local legend. More than 4,600 people have liked the page, with many leaving their own memories of the Red Devil’s number one enthusiast.
“He’s been a longtime Jeffersonville sports supporter, not just basketball. He’s kind of a staple at Jeffersonville,” said Jeffersonville boys’ Basketball Varsity Coach Matt Pait. “He’s just one of those fans who all the visiting teams know who he is and all the home fans know who is. He’s fun to have around.”
Through it all, Gary takes his celebrity status in stride. It’s not uncommon for him to be at any number of festivals and happenings in Jeffersonville, chatting with kids and posing for photos.
“I love it. I love it,” he said. “It makes me feel like a star.”
Growing used to the spotlight, the Southern Indiana cowboy even took to the stage last year and sang a country song complete with boots and a cowboy hat. When asked if he’d wear his western wear to a game this season, he laughed and nodded.
“I’m going to wear it this year and say, ‘Yee-who,’” he said. “I’m going to holler at them. And everyone is going to look at me and say, ‘Damn, here comes a star.’”
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org