NEWBERRY – With just over 23 years old, Scott Sawyer has retired as Director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for the City of Newberry and said he feels very relieved to have left the department in good hands as it moves forward.
Sawyer graduated from North Augusta High School and played baseball at Piedmont College in Demourst, Georgia and the University of South Carolina-Aiken, before transferring to the University of Oklahoma, graduating in December 1996.
Growing up, Sawyer said he did “any sport that was in season.” However, gardening and recreation work was not initially in the plans until the idea of a leisure degree was introduced by the University of Oklahoma admissions counselor.
“That was all I had,” he said. “This was where my leisure journey began.”
Sawyer trained in the North Augusta City Recreation Department during the summer of 1986 and the following January, an opportunity for program coordinator became available within the department.
“I was there for two years, chased after a dream and went to referee school in Florida, graduated and became a minor league baseball referee,” he said.
Sawyer said he continued this path for four years until he met his wife, Judy, and then returned to his previous job in North Augusta.
In January 1999, Sawyer accepted the job at Newbury Parks and Recreation, saying it seemed a perfect fit.
His main goal as a manager was to work hard and for the department to do its best.
“I don’t know I have a specific goal other than to live up to our department’s mission of ‘connecting the community through people, parks and programs,'” he said. PRT is all about quality of life. I think as a crew we have risen to the challenge. You can’t drive through Newberry without seeing something the PRT has contributed to.”
Sawyer said Newberry is the horseshoe-shaped state capital. The Marion Davis Park Horseshoe Court facility was built in 2000 and soon hosted the SummerFun Horseshoe Championship, which was the fourth largest horseshoe tournament in the United States in 2006.
Participants have come from 24 states over the years to perform in Newberry. SummerFun is now the first tournament on the Horseshoe Tour’s annual schedule. Sawyer was a 2021 inductee into the Horseshoe Tour Hall of Fame, the first non-player to be inducted.
“Over the years, SummerFun participants have won 52 World Championships. The Horseshoe World loves Newberry,” said Sawyer.
In 1999, when Sawyer was hired, the division relied primarily on athletics—particularly baseball, softball, and basketball. Sawyer was part of some of those programmes. He and his wife have five children and Sawyer was in the field with them.
“I coached the kids in t-ball and coaching league. Two teams at the same time.” We were all training together. If Jodi was working, I would run the tossing machine during a game with a baby attached to me in one of these baby carriers.”
Sawyer said things began to change for the management in 2005 when the city was asked to take over the downtown Oktoberfest event. He felt that the event really laid the foundation that allowed their division to grow.
In 2007, the department began overseeing the Firehouse Convention Center and the department’s tourism budget came in. Sawyer said they then added to the ads and started seeing growth at many downtown events.
The park improvement plan was introduced in 2012, Sawyer said, and with the council committed to improving quality of life, the department began making improvements to the city’s parks.
The next big growth area occurred in 2014 with the creation of the Arts Program and Newberry Center for the Arts. During that time, a park improvement plan led to renovations at Glen Street Ball Field, Kendall Football Field, Grant Park, and Galman Park.
In 2018, he said, he opened the Auckland Tennis Center and succeeded in getting the community out onto the tennis court and increasing their level of activity.
“That’s one of the main reasons for building a tennis center; to get people out onto the courts and hopefully be healthier. We also said we don’t want to build a tennis center, we want to build a tennis program. We did. But I hope we can do better in the coming years,” said Sawyer. “Tennis is a great and inexpensive sport.”
With the passage of the 2016 Capital Enterprise Sales Tax Referendum, construction of the Newberry Leisure Complex began. Sawyer said Gully Washer Splash Park has been a huge success, with the complex’s first full season of baseball and softball this year.
“We refer to the complex as an ‘outdoor entertainment experience,'” he said. “The hope is that before we’re done, the location has something for just about everyone to do.”
Sawyer’s retirement will bring two more projects close to completion, but they are not fully completed. Wise Street Park and Wells Japanese Garden are currently in the final stages of renovation.
“The Wise Street project has been in progress for about three years with separate grants awarded for a new bathroom and walking path and a larger federal grant to complete the full renovation of the park. I hope the community will enjoy the improvements for years to come,” said Sawyer. “The Wells Japanese Garden renovations are also nearly complete. The garden is a jewel for Newbury. The Wells family has agreed to the changes, and we have also tried to make it as original as possible. I hope people enjoy what has been done.”
City manager Matt DeWitt said Sawyer had a tremendous impact on the city of Newberry.
“Anyone who has had a positive experience playing a sport, visiting a park, or attending one of the various events in the city owes Scott some thanks; he has also had a direct role in that experience over the past two decades, in addition,” DeWitt said.
After his decision to retire, Sawyer called an old friend to inform him, and the conversation led to his next adventure.
“I called my friend Jimmy. He’s the president of the Carl Jackson Foundation and he said he needed some help (with the foundation work). Jackson is Jimmy’s brother and he played Ben Crenshaw on the Masters golf course,” Sawyer said.
Next adventure? Sawyer is now the chief operating officer of the Carl Jackson Foundation.
Together they will work on Carl’s Kids, the foundation’s religious service, teaching young people the basics of golf, but the basics of life and having a good personality. Sawyer says this is a mission of some sort.
“I think the timing of my retirement and Jimmy’s needing some help is fantastic. I can’t wait to serve the Lord through the Carl Jackson Foundation Ministry.
Sawyer said he also plans to do park and recreation-based consulting, specifically with smaller agencies through Scott Sawyer Consulting LLC.
Over the years, Sawyer has said that the best thing about his job is the people he works with.
“I’ve always told our employees that over the course of your life, you spend more time with people at work than you do with your family, so we may get along as well as possible,” he said. “Our staff is very team oriented, and I think people really enjoy coming to work.”
Sawyer said he feels comfortable that the department will be in good hands with the new manager, Colin Shelley and that he will do an excellent job.
“I still have a copy of the 2007 memo we received on transfer/succession planning,” Sawyer said. “Colin excelled in his role as deputy director, and he got the chance to move upstairs.”
Elisa Haven is the public relations coordinator in Newberry.