Students gather to honor Coach Bowsman as he gives the gift of life

"Honor Walk" for Coach Phillip Bowsman. (WTHR/Clint Erbacher)
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Ascension St. Vincent Hospital held an "Honor Walk" Wednesday for a southern Indiana football coach, who died this week after suffering a stroke.

It was an emotional journey and symbol of thanks.

They paid tribute to a man who's now saving lives through organ donation.

"I know it meant a lot to Beth and the family for everyone to be here," West Washington Superintendent Keith Nance said. "It just shows the impact that Phillip had on all of us. He was a tremendous friend, an amazing mentor to young men and women and a lover of God."

Dozens of people traveled over two hours to Indianapolis from rural Washington County, to experience a few powerful moments and honor Coach Phillip Bowsman's heroic last act.

Teammates, family and friends stood shoulder to shoulder in Senator gear, in the halls of St. Vincent.

"It's the least we could do to shine the light on a man that typically shined the light on other people," Nance said. "He's an extremely generous person, sacrificing himself all the time and for this to be his final act, it doesn't surprise me one bit the choice that he made."

Bowsman, a husband and father of two, spent 20 years coaching football at West Washington High School.

Beloved is no understatement in his southern Indiana community. A lot of players called him "dad."

That's why the heartache was so palpable when he passed away this week, days after suffering a stroke during the playoff game against Indianapolis Lutheran.

It feels like losing family.

"You know one of the kids said it best that a lot of people on the team call him "Dad #1" and to some he's "Dad #2" and there's going to be a big void and it's gonna take a lot of people to step up and fill it," Nance said. "Coach Bowsman is my closest friend. It's difficult but I know what he'd want me to do and that would be to lead these kids through this difficult time and I'm going to do that the best I can to honor him."

That's why so many colleagues, along with current and former players wanted to be at the hospital to witness Bowsman's Honor Walk.

Honor Walks are rituals where doctors, nurses and loved ones line hospital hallways to honor the decision to donate life and let the family know they're not alone.

For the student Senators, their portion lasted about ten solemn and sacred minutes.

They held hands, shared hugs and tears and prayed the Lord's Prayer over his hospital bed.

Their coach's next stop - the operating room to save at least eight strangers with donated organs.

Right now, 114,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list.

1,300 of those are here in Indiana.

Because of Coach Bowsman, the list just got smaller.

"Honor Walks really are our way of conveying the fact that donors are heroes," said Mark Back, spokesperson for Indiana Donor Network. "Honoring them this way really emphasizes the fact that this person is a hero and their decision to say yes to donation is a heroic act."

For a man who impacted countless lives as a teacher, mentor, father and friend, it was a fitting final gift.

It's an impact that will live on.

You can register to become a donor at IndianaDonorNetwork.org or at the BMV.