I consider myself very lucky. The first football game I ever attended at Clayton High School was one of its most memorable — the 1989 2A state championship game. I was a senior up Highway 70 at Garner that year, but something told me a state championship game 15 minutes from my house was something I couldn’t pass up.
Even if it made my mom mad that I was out late on a Monday night or made her even more mad when my car wouldn’t start to leave the game and she had to come and get me.
It was a small price to pay. I’ve attended/written on/covered, I guess, somewhere between 50 and 60 games there. It was always a great, different atmosphere from most high school stadiums.
I tried to come up with some way to relay that myself, but decided there were others who could get the point across better. Those who grew up in the community, played there, coached there, lived there. And that group spans the fields of a Clayton Civitan football game all the way to the NFL.
Best of all the place now has a special name as well — Nixon-Fowler Stadium. A name that honors two men, really two families as the two men would be quick to tell you, and their dedication to a special place.
Smithfield-Selma Class of 1981, Former NFL player, Longtime high school and college football official, Johnston County School Board Member
Stadiums take on the attributes of the coaches and I have to say that both Coach Nixon and Coach Fowler were coaches that not only were fathers to the players, but also leaders in the community. They both involved the local communities, and in turn, the local community showed up to games and supported the teams. That’s what I remember about Clayton football is the packed house every Friday, where you could feel the electricity and excitement in the air. Teams respond to that type of feeling.
Coach Fowler and Coach Nixon were both an influence in my life. Coach Nixon coached me in the North-South All-Star Game in Greenville and, although I was at SSS during Coach Fowler’s time at Clayton, he always reached out to me to give me coaching pointers as well. Johnston County was blessed to have both of these men serve Clayton High School, the Clayton community and Nixon-Fowler Stadium.
Garner Class of 1988, Former N.C. State player, longtime high school football coach
Clayton’s stadium — Nixon-Fowler Stadium — is different because of the history of football established by the two coaches. They had a winning tradition for years, hard-nosed players on the field and the family atmosphere in the bleachers. When you came in there with an opposing team, you could feel the spirit of Clayton football. It’s a small-town field, like it’s only game in town.
Ken “Bear” Ray
Clayton Class of 1987, Former Comet football player, longtime high school football coach
Gary Fowler has had such a positive effect on my life. I don’t know where to begin when I talk about him. I will begin by saying Gary was my first Coach. What Coach Fowler has done for my life goes much past the playing field or any X and Os. He’s been my coach, mentor, and most of all, my friend, for over 30 years. We try to talk at least once a week. Playing for him was always fun, because he always demanded that you bring your best effort on every single play. Working for Gary was really good, because getting the opportunity to learn a craft from a person that you think so highly of was a pleasure.
Coach Fowler helped me learn that football was more than being a coach on the practice field or on the sidelines on Thursday and Friday nights. He instilled in me that a lot of kids don’t have a father to go home to. The kids look to you to fill a much larger role in their lives. He didn’t have to convince me on this, because he had been that same influential person in my life.
Coach Nixon had a special way with words and getting his point across without using any profanity. We all knew when he would substitute words with meats such as Bologna, salami etc., that you were in trouble with coach. Nixon always demanding every players’ 100 percent effort and most of the time he got the best out of his players.
As I look back over my time spent with Fowler and Nixon I can truly say I played for two Living Legends. It’s a great honor that Clayton High School and the Clayton community are paying due respect to two of the most Influential men in the lives of many athletes and students that walked through the halls of Clayton High school.
Clayton Class of 1991, Former Comet football player (member of 1989 2A championship team), former high school football coach
When I became a teacher, I had one very important goal: I had to teach at Clayton, and I had to coach with Fowler. I realized that goal in 2008, and it felt like my life had returned full circle. Walking onto that field as a coach made me feel like I had so much responsibility to instill in these new players the Comet way. ... the Fowler way. ... that attitude made the difference.
Clayton Class of 1999, Former Clayton standout, grandson of Glenn Nixon, played for Gary Fowler, now head coach at West Rowan High
The first thing that makes Clayton special is that it was one town with one high school. The community support was never an issue and made the players feel special. I can remember coming down the hill from my house at the Highway 70 intersection and seeing the stadium lights on at 3:30 for a 7:30 kickoff.
Having a coach like Coach Fowler who knows what the ‘C’ on the helmet stands for made it that much more important to carry on the Clayton tradition that was started way before us. Coach wouldn’t give us the ‘C’ for our helmets or paint the ‘C’ on the field before we won a game. I hope the players and community understand how important Clayton football is to everyone that has walked those halls and laced them up on Friday nights.
Clayton Class of 1969, Former Comet ball boy, student manager, player, coach, legendary high school baseball coach (coached football with Nixon and Fowler, assistant coach on 1989 state 2A championship team)
My first year on the Clayton football sidelines was in 1962, I was a manager in the sixth grade who followed Coach Nixon around anywhere. I played Clayton Civitan youth baseball on this field, we had a Halloween carnival to raise money for the community out in the middle of the field. Coach Nixon, he was a great artist, would do charachtericures of the kids during those carnivals. We’d have to take the bleachers out of the gym before baseball season and set them up on the football field, then put them back up in the gym once baseball season was over.
Coach Fowler and I decided that we needed to build a retaining wall in the mid-1980s to help with drainage. We started trying to pour that concrete and put up those blocks and, fortunately, a guy with a cement business saw the hard time we were having, and told us, he’d just come back and have his guys do it. Thank goodness for him and so many other people. If he hadn’t stopped by, I think Gary and I would still be out there to this day trying finish building that retaining wall.
Coach Nixon and I came up with a way to put the lines on the field — we still used real lime in those days. He took an old metal Maxwell House coffee can, attached it to a pole and cut a 3-inch wide hole in the bottom of it. We’d walk the line, shaking it to put the line out for those yard lines on the field.
It’s all those types of things that Coach Nixon and Gary did for so many years that make this their stadium.
They both did it all for the kids. They wanted to make sure the kids and the community had a place they could be proud of to play football.