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John Sawyer Honored for Sports, Inspiring Snellville Youth

A long-time coach receives honors.

This year, Coach John Sawyer received two accolades for his years in teaching, coaching and mentoring Snellville’s youth.

This fall the Georgia Baseball Dugout Club inducted him into the 2012 Hall of Fame. Nominated by former student and coach, Roger Parham told this prestigious group that John had set many records in his career. He holds a record number of 600 wins to a total number of 140 losses over his 36 years of coaching at one school. John was elected unanimously in the Hall of Fame.

In April, Piedmont College honored its 1963 graduate with an induction into the Letter Club “P Club” Hall of Fame. The "P Club" holds the outstanding talents and character during his time in athletics as reason enough to be made a member. In the words of Roger Parham who played for him and later coached with him, “The impact you make on people is amazing."

Those who don’t know him can’t understand how much he has meant to Snellville, the state of Georgia and national and international athletic association. “He isn’t a man to brag about himself, but John Sawyer has saved many a child and helped them grow into responsible adults," Roger said. He went on to say that there were three men that directed him in his life: “Jesus, Dad, and John Sawyer."

In The Beginning

A 1954 graduate of Hawkinsville High School, The Hawkinsville Flash was offered a pitching position with the Cincinnati Reds. His mother wouldn’t let him go, encouraging him to get his education.  He received a scholarship to play football at Gordon College. There he injured his knee.

Being such an outstanding athlete, Georgia Teachers College, now Georgia Southern University, picked him up on scholarship for a pitcher. Coach Sawyer pitched seven wins and one loss, giving him “his best year ever.”  He admits he got mixed up and cocky.

“God punished me for my cockiness and poor behaviors. I tore my rotator cuff.  I was lost. I didn’t know where to go, what to do. The lady at the Draft Office kept after me. I was angry about being injured and was hurt and floundering in life.”

He later joined the Army, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Claude Olsten, the former pitching coach for the Dodgers was the coach of the U.S. Army Baseball League at Ft. Lewis Military Base in Washington State. John credits this man for teaching him how to pitch. Another great thing happened to John because of the Army. He met the love of his life, Margery. He and Margie have been married 51 years.

At Piedmont College

A Hawkinsville friend of John’s encouraged him to talk to the head coach and enroll at Piedmont College. John told Coach Cave: “I’m the man who can do the job for you if you give me the opportunity.” Coach Cave gave him the opportunity. And, John was pitching hard ball again.

Because that man believed in John and gave him the opportunity, Coach Sawyer has been a dominate factor in the lives of many people. Over the years, John has help more than 500 students get into college to play a sport. He knows of at least 38 students who attended Piedmont at his encouragement who later became teachers and coaches.

After graduating from Piedmont, John and Margie moved back to Hawkinsville to care for his father. Margie went to work as a nurse in the nearby hospital and John returned to his job as a traffic policeman for Hawkinsville, a job he held each summer during college breaks.

Former South Gwinnett Coach Bobby Johnson and John became life-long friends at Piedmont. Bobby was hired as a coach at . In 1964, Bobby encouraged John to apply for a position at South Gwinnett. What a great day for Snellville.

Man of Many Hats

There are few people as respected in this community as John B. Sawyer. He has worn many hats in his 76 years: coach, teacher, mentor, counselor, and friend. But I think his students would say his best hat was all-round educator. He taught world geography and world history and coached for 36 years at . Thousands of kids went through his classes and played on his teams. They learned to read a map, catch a ball and what loyalty and integrity mean.

John coached nearly every sport there was, except cheerleading. Jack Britt had that honor. John and his good friend Bobby Johnson coached girls’ basketball one year, and they went to the state playoffs. And, the stories those two men have to tell about that experience cannot be told in this limited space. That’s a story for another time.

John coached a girls’ summer softball team. His daughter Mylinda told him she wouldn’t play if he didn’t coach them so they would win. They won. John admits coaching her team was one of the best experiences of his career.

John is probably most famous for coaching football and baseball. Baseball is John’s love, though. John was active in the Dixie Youth Baseball League for more than 36 years and went on to coach in the USA Baseball League. He was the assistant coach for the Junior Olympics, based in Baton Rouge, La., and the head coach for the league based in Chapel Hill. 

He coached in the USA Baseball and International Leagues. John coached the first USA 15-16 year-old team. They went to Taiwan. This is the ONLY time one of his teams did not win a medal. The United States had never won against Cuba’s national team. In Australia, John’s USA Baseball Team beat Cuba and brought home the gold. Many of those young men who John and his team of scouts chose went on to become professional baseball players.  

Back in Snellville

There wasn’t much of a baseball field when he came to Snellville in 1964.  E.R. Snell donated the land, equipment and a lot of sweat equity to build that E.R. Snell fields and park on McGee Road. There were a lot of mamas and daddies and kids working on the high school fields. Parents volunteered time, money, materials, equipment and hours of hard work.  John Sawyer is known across the nation as always having the most beautiful fields, well-mannered players, and 110 percent dedication.

John never met a kid for whom he didn’t care. Whatever the ability, John encouraged him or her to grow, “to give that 110 percent." He had disabled kids for managers.  hey were thrilled. They were part of the team. You could see their pride and confidence in themselves grow. 

John and Margie took kids in that had nowhere to go. Those boys now are men who still follow in John’s footsteps. Do your best and Coach Sawyer will do his best for you.

In 2000, when Coach Sawyer had to retire from SGHS due to vision problems, his former students and players held a reception in the school’s cafeteria.  Parkview’s baseball coach Hugh Buchanan said it best: “I have never played against or known a finer man than John Sawyer.” His former players gave him a fully outfitted boat in appreciation for the support and direction in life he had given them. Jeff Davis and Stan Tedder were standing near me. I heard Jeff say “I love that man. He is an inspiration.”

Relaxing in Retirement

When John turned 75, Margie and Mylinda threw him a birthday party at The invitation was to everyone who had worked with him, was his student, or a player. The room was packed. Stories were told. Laughter was heard everywhere. The love and respect was tremendous.  Grown men cried as they told stories of how John had helped them, given them direction, saved them, encouraged them and always believed in them.

When John came to South, the kids in his first period world geography class would tease him about what the “B” stood for in his name.  John would never tell them. Jan Snell Houston named him John “Bear” Sawyer or Coach Bear.  Lovingly known as Mr. Sawyer, Coach Sawyer, John “Bear” Sawyer or just plain Coach, John B. Sawyer dedicated his life to the children of Snellville. 

Coach and Margie spend much of their time at their home on Lake Oconee. You boys remember all the hours y’all worked on the baseball field with him?  He has dedicated himself to his yards. Former student Michael Waters built him a green house. John grows his vegetables from seeds, roots cuttings for most of his plants and has the Master Gardeners of Putnam County begging for his secrets. 

Melinda Franklin May 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Another wonderful article, Marlene! Thanks for the sharing the memories.
Marlene Buchanan May 19, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Thank you for your comments.
Reid Mullins May 20, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Hi Marlene. Wonderful article on John. It was a great pleasure being with all of you at Piedmont on April the 14th. for the Presentation. I especially enjoyed seeing Roger. He was one of my students at Snellville Middle in the good old days. Regards. Reid Mullins.
Gayla Davis May 20, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Coach Sawyer will always stand out as being one of my favorite teachers. He was calm, funny, and approachable in the classroom. We all had (and still have) such great respect for him..
Marlene Buchanan May 21, 2012 at 12:07 AM
I will try to send your comments to John, everyone. He will be delighted
Dan Pate May 21, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I played for Coach Sawyer back in 64-66. He is a good man and pushed us to excel to our potential. We all did hate the cage that he came up with where all the football players had to gather under and the last one that was left under the cage was the winner! My hat is off to you Coach Sawyer and please know that you are loved! Dan Pate///class of 1966.
Marlene Buchanan May 21, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Dan, I will be sure he gets your comments. He still talks about all his kids and is proud of each of you.

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