With just over 23 years, Scott Sawyer has retired as Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director for the City of Newberry and said he feels very comfortable that he has left the department in good hands moving forward.

Sawyer graduated from North Augusta High School and played baseball at Piedmont College in Demorest, GA and the University of South Carolina-Aiken, before transferring to the University of Oklahoma, graduating in December 1996.

As he was growing up, Sawyer said he played “whatever sport was in season.” However, working in Parks and Recreation wasn’t initially in the plans until he was introduced to the idea of a recreation degree by an admissions counselor at the University of Oklahoma.

“That was all me,” he said. “That was where my recreation journey started.”

Sawyer interned with the City of North Augusta’s recreation department during the summer of 1986 and the following January an opening for a program coordinator became available within the department.

“I was there for two years, chased a dream and went to umpire school in Florida, graduated and became a minor league baseball umpire,” he said.

Sawyer said he continued that path for four years until meeting his wife, Jody and then going back to his previous job in North Augusta.

In January 1999, Sawyer accepted the job with the City of Newberry Parks and Recreation, saying it just seemed like the right fit.

His main goal as Parks, Recreation and Tourism director, has been to work hard and for the department to do the best it can be.

“I don’t know that I had a specific goal other than to live up to our department’s mission of “connecting community through people, parks and programs.” he said. “We’ve recognized City Council’s desire to maintain a focus on quality of life.  PRT is all about quality of life. I think as a staff that we’ve risen to the challenge. You can’t drive through Newberry without seeing something that PRT has had a hand in.”

Newberry is the horseshoe capital of the state, Sawyer said. The Marion Davis Park horseshoe court facility was built in 2000 and soon hosted The SummerFun horseshoe tournament, which was the 4th largest horseshoe tournament in the United States in 2006.  Participants have come from 24 states over the years to pitch in Newberry. The SummerFun is now the first tournament of the Horseshoe Tour’s annual schedule. Sawyer was a 2021 inductee into the Horseshoe Tour Hall of Fame and the first non-pitcher to be inducted.

“Over the years, participants in The SummerFun have won 52 world championships. The horseshoe world loves Newberry,” Sawyer said.

In 1999 when Sawyer was hired, the department was primarily based around athletics – specifically baseball, softball and basketball. Sawyer was a part of some of those programs. He and his wife have five children and Sawyer has been on the field with them.

“I coached kids in t-ball and training league. Two teams at the same time,” he said. “We would all practice together. If Jody was working, I would be operating the pitching machine during a game with a kid attached to me in one of those baby carriers.”

Sawyer said things began to change for the department in 2005 when the city was asked to take over downtown’s Oktoberfest event. He felt like the event really laid the groundwork that allowed their department to grow.

In 2007, the department began overseeing the Firehouse Conference Center and the tourism budget of the department came to be. Sawyer said it was then that they added to advertising and began to see growth in many downtown events.

A park improvement plan was introduced in 2012, Sawyer said and with council’s commitment to improving quality of life, the department began to make improvements to city parks.

The next big growth area occurred in 2014 with the establishing of an arts program and the Newberry Arts Center. During that time the park improvement plan led to renovations at the Glenn Street ballfield, Kendall football field, Grant Park, Gallman Park.

In 2018 the Oakland Tennis Center opened has been successful in getting the community out on the tennis court and increasing their activity level.

“That is one of the main reasons the tennis center was built; To get people out on the courts and hopefully healthier. We have also said that we didn’t want to build a tennis center, we want to build a tennis program. We’ve done that. But I hope we will do an even better job in the coming years. Tennis is a great, inexpensive sport,” Sawyer said.

With the 2016 Capital Projects Sales Tax referendum passing, the buildout of the Newbery Recreation Complex began. Sawyer said the Gully Washer Splash Park has been a big hit, with the complex’s first full season of baseball and softball this year.

“We refer to the complex as an ‘outdoor recreation experience,’ he said. “The hope is that before we are done, the site has something for just about everyone to do.”

Sawyer’s retirement will leave two more projects nearing completion but not quite complete. Wise Street Park and Wells Japanese Garden are currently in their final stages of renovation.

“The Wise Street project has been on-going for about three years with separate grants obtained for a new bathroom and walking trail and a larger federal grant to complete the full renovation of the park. I hope the community enjoys the improvements for years to come.” said Sawyer. “Wells Japanese Garden renovations are also almost complete. The garden is a gem for Newberry. The Wells family has approved of the changes, and we have also tried to make it as authentic as possible. I hope people enjoy what has been done.”

City Manager Matt DeWitt said Sawyer has made 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 city’s various events owes Scott a bit of thanks; as he has had a direct hand in that experience over the past two decades, plus,” DeWitt said.

Following his decision to retire, Sawyer called a longtime friend to inform him, and the conversation led to his next adventure.  

Sawyer said, “I called my friend Jimmy. He is the President of the Carl Jackson Foundation and he said needed some help (with foundation work). Jackson is Jimmy’s brother and has been Ben Crenshaw’s caddy at the Master’s golf tournament.”

The next adventure?  Sawyer is now the Chief Operating Officer of the Carl Jackson Foundation.

Together, they’ll be working on Carl’s Kids, a faith-based ministry of the foundation, not only teaching young people the fundamentals of golf, but the fundamentals of life and having good character. Sawyer says this is a mission of sorts.

“I believe the timing of my retirement and Jimmy needing some help is a God thing. I can’t wait to serve the Lord through the ministry of the Carl Jackson Foundation,” he said.

Sawyer said he also plans to do Parks and Recreation based consulting, specifically with smaller agencies through Scott Sawyer Consulting LLC.

Throughout the years, Sawyer said the best thing about his job has been the people he works with.

“I’ve always told our staff that over the course of your lifetime, you spend more time with the people at work than you do your family, so we may as well get along as well as we can,” he said. “Our staff is very team oriented, and I think people actually enjoy coming to work.”

Sawyer said he felt comfortable that the department would be in good hands with the new director, Collin Shealy and that he would do an excellent job. 

“I still have a copy of a 2007 memo we received relating to transition/succession planning. I took it seriously,” Sawyer said. “Collin has excelled in his role as Deputy Director, and he has earned the opportunity move up.”