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New coach, new conference. West Aurora hires Michael Fowler as boys basketball coach, moves back to Upstate Eight.

It’s still there, rising in flight on Michael Fowler’s upper right arm.

A tattoo of the Mighty Mouse cartoon character Fowler had applied when he was 19 years old pays homage to one of the 2000 West Aurora graduate’s heroes — former NBA standout Damon Stoudamire.

District 129 officials are hoping it becomes symbolic of Fowler’s return home and the impact the former state champion has as coach of the program he played for during the Gordie Kerkman era.

West Aurora athletic director Jason Buckley confirmed Monday that Fowler had been hired to succeed Brian Johnson, who was let go in early March.

“I was a quiet kid and also a lefty like Stoudamire, who has the Mighty Mouse nickname and tat,” Fowler said.

Toronto fans booed his selection on draft night but Stoudamire was named the NBA’s rookie of the year. He played 17 seasons and was featured with the tattoo in a Nike promotional poster.

As a junior for the Blackhawks, Fowler was a 5-foot-10 point guard — just like Stoudamire — when friends gave him the same nickname.

“It has stuck my whole life with my close friends,” Fowler said.

That’s why he got the tattoo, which has considerably more muscle behind it these days than when he weighed 155 pounds and averaged 7.7 points and a team-high 4.5 assists for state champion West Aurora (32-1).

The District 129 school board made more news Monday night, voting 7-0 to accept an invitation from the Upstate Eight to rejoin the conference for a third stint. The Blackhawks will leave the Southwest Prairie Conference after a fifth season in 2024-25.

“We feel, based on our experiences the last few years, it would be a better fit all the way around as far as pros and cons,” Buckley said.

The Blackhawks have gone winless in football all four seasons in the Southwest Prairie West.

Buckley said when West Aurora joined the expanded 12-team conference he was told the plan was to reevaluate the divisions periodically, but his request for such a review did not get answered.

Three other schools — Riverside-Brookfield, Elmwood Park and Ridgewood — have also been extended invitations to join the Upstate Eight Conference, which could feature two seven-team divisions in some sports.

Buckley insisted that while there’s an underlying perception the conference change is a football-only decision, “this is not the case.” He said there will be more options with an expanded UEC.

Fowler said he had no input on the UEC decision but welcomes getting to play East Aurora twice a season.

“I think it’s needed for the communities on both sides of the river,” Fowler said.

His ties to West Aurora run deep since his dad, Herman, played for the Blackhawks under Kerkman predecessor John McDougal. Many relatives still live on the West Side.

Michael Fowler went on to play in college at Lincoln and NCAA Division II Ashland before starting his coaching career in 2008 when Plainfield East opened.

Fowler assisted Plainfield coach Branden Adkins at various levels, finally as varsity assistant, and then became the head coach in 2017 when Adkins left to become Neuqua Valley’s athletic director.

Fowler’s teams went 57-69 in five seasons. He stepped down following the 2021-22 season. He continued to teach at Plainfield East but hopes to be in the building at West Aurora next school year if a teaching position can be finalized.

“It wasn’t my end game or overall plan to be the head coach there forever,” Fowler said of Plainfield East. “I had 15 years there, and I wanted to spend more time at home with my family, my girls.”

Fowler and his wife Victoria have two daughters, Isabel and Zoey, who are 12 and 9, respectively.

He didn’t plan to give up coaching for good, however, saying he thought he might eventually move to another program as an assistant.

“It had to be the right spot,” Fowler said. “I was OK with not being a head coach.”

That is, until the West Aurora position opened up.

He applied after getting the OK from his family.

“I thought about it long,” Fowler said. “It’s a different level, especially with the tradition over there. I know what’s expected and I’m aware of the pressures.

“I’ve been there. I understand what it’s about.”

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Source: Berkshire mont

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