With the 2018-19 school year now at an end, Roger Parham says that this summer will likely seem a lot like the past 30 of his career in coaching and education, mostly in the Gwinnett County Public School system.
It’s when the next school year begins in August that the Snellville native says he may feel a little different. The 1983 South Gwinnett grad’s long career in education includes roles as former head coach of the Comets baseball and softball teams, former Mill Creek head softball coach and baseball and softball assistant at Mill Creek and Brookwood.
“No, not really. I think it probably will when school starts back up (in August),” said Parham when asked if his retirement, which officially takes effect at the end of this week, has begun to sink in. “A little bit in the fact that I won’t be involved in summer athletics, baseball or softball or whatever the case may be. But I think it will probably sink in a little more when school starts back.”
Whenever it sinks in, there will be plenty for Parham to look back and reflect on over his nearly three decades in high school athletics.
However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that what he’ll perhaps reflect on most is the dozen seasons he spent upon a return to South from the mid-1990s to the mid 2000s — first as an assistant to his former coach, recent Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame inductee John Sawyer, and then as his successor.
“Coach Sawyer was that guy,” Parham said. “He impacted so many young people and adults alike. To have a chance to come back and work with him — and he always said that. He’d go, ‘Understand, you’re not working for me, you’re working with me.’ — it was a very enjoyable time. He was at the end of his career, and I was at the beginning of mine.
“I just remember Coach Sawyer said, ‘It’s your program now. … There’s just two things I don’t want you to change. Never (take) the saying off the scoreboard (on the field) that says, ‘John B. Sawyer Field, where good ol’ hardball is played.’ And he said, ‘Don’t grass the (first and third) baselines until the Atlanta Braves do it. Everything else, you can change.’ And so there really wasn’t much to change at all. I think we went from a royal blue to a navy blue (on the uniforms). Baseball was the last holdout for royal, and I changed over because Gary Long was my athletic director, and I had a long relationship with Gary. … Just a wonderful guy to work for.”
Indeed, it took a relationship as strong as the one he had with Long, who also recently retired, in making a difficult decision to leave South after accumulating a 124-79 record as baseball coach, as well as guiding the Comets’ softball team to the 1997 Class AAAA state championship.
Parham followed Long, along with his former pitching coach and then Mill Creek football coach, and now Long’s successor as athletic director, Shannon Jarvis, to the Hoschton school in 2006, and his friendship with Doug Jones, who is still the Hawks’ baseball coach, also played a big role in that decision.
His friendship with Jones might seem a little unlikely given that they were Region 8-AAAA rivals for many years while Jones was an assistant at Parkview and later head coach at Brookwood, as well their respective personalities.
But Jones says nothing could be further from the truth.
“We had a great time,” Jones said. “Everybody kept saying, ‘Y’all have got two strong personalities. It’ll never work.’ I can honestly tell you we laugh about it. We never had one cross word ever. We’re more alike than anybody could ever imagine.
“It’s like I told him at the (2019 induction ceremony for the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame earlier this spring), he worked with me, he didn’t work for me.”
While Parham’s relationship with Jones, Long, Jarvis and others were a big part of his decision to go to Mill Creek, he admits the relationship that played the largest role in that decision was one a lot closer to home.
“It was really driven by my kids,” Parham recalled. “They were (attending) Dacula (High School at the time), and they did not want to change schools, (but) they wanted to be where I was. And I wanted to be where they were. They didn’t want to go to South Gwinnett because it was on the other side of the county, and we lived in Dacula.”
That move wouldn’t be the last of his career, as he moved on to coach softball for one season at Gainesville in 2015 after serving as an assistant on Jones’ baseball staff for nine seasons and as Mill Creek’s head softball coach for five seasons.
Once again, family was at least a part of that decision, though it wasn’t the only reason.
“Another dear friend of mine, Wayne Vickery, was the athletic director (at Gainesville), and he wanted me to come up and take over the softball program,” Parham recalled. “It intrigued me for two reasons. No. 1, they had never been successful, not at the fastpitch level. They’d been successful at slowpitch, and I really wanted to go in there and see if I could take what I did at Mill Creek and take it into that situation, and … Wayne afforded me that opportunity.
“No. 2, it was my oldest son Casey’s senior year in college. I’d seen him play six games (up at Piedmont College in Demorest) up to that point, and by going to Gainesville, I did not have to (coach) baseball, and that afforded me the opportunity in the spring to follow him around, and that is something I would not have changed at all.”
But after a year and a change at Gainesville in the athletic director and principal positions, Parham was on the move again, this time back home to Snellville, though at South’s crosstown rival Brookwood as an assistant on both the baseball and softball staffs.
And for a third time, relationships — both pre-existing and new — played a key role in his choice of destination.
“Really, (Brookwood was) the best opportunity for two reasons,” Pahram said. “No. 1 was Jennifer Maloney, who had been my assistant (for softball) at Mill Creek, and she took the head coaching job at Brookwood.
“No. 2, Mark Kimbro was the athletic director at the time. And if you also remember, that was when Rick Howard was leaving (to take the job at Lambert), so Coach (Titus) Martin was coming in and Bo Ford was the principal and (he) called me in, and he was awesome. He provided my the opportunity to come back to Snellville, to come back to Gwinnett County and I just couldn’t thank him enough.
“That was right when I got sick, too. That first year, I came back and I got really, really sick, and he just stood by me, and Titus did, too and Mark Kimbro. … It really meant a lot to me. I can’t say enough about what that meant to me and my family, for (them) to support me through a very, very difficult time.”
The medical issue Parham referred to, gastrointestinal issues that would lead to surgery, was a trying time for him and his family.
It did, however, lead to him reconnecting with an old friend in former South basketball coach, Berkmar athletic director and Gwinnett County athletic director Mike Rickard, who was in a battle of his own with colon cancer.
While Rickard sadly lost his battle in 2017, Parham recalls a piece of advice his friend gave him that he is taking to heart as he enters retirement.
“My wife and I are fortunate to have the place … down here at Lake Oconee, and there’s a lot of things I want to do around here,” Parham said. “(Rickard) passed away a couple of years ago, (but) we kind of reconnected (before he died) and shared war stories. He told me, ‘Roger, do me a favor. When you retire, make sure you don’t commit to anything until you get bored. Because if you commit to something too early, you’re going to (say) you never should’ve retired.
“Wait until you get everything done that you want to do, and then look at your opportunities. I think there will be some opportunities down here … if I want to go that route. I may want to go a different direction. I don’t know yet. Right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to stay here at home and do some projects that I’ve been wanting to do and spend more time with my family.”
While Parham leaves the door open — if only just a crack — to one day coaching again on a part-time basis, he says he is very much looking forward to retirement.
And he heads into it with no regrets.
“All the way through, there’s not a single thing that I would look back on negatively, and there’s nothing I would change either,” Parham said. “Everything I did was built on the right ideas.”
And if anyone doubts about the positive impact he had on colleagues and student-athletes Parham came in contact with, Jones says they will be erased by just talking to them, especially the athletes.
“Everybody who knows Roger knows his personality is infectious,” Jones said. “He’s been at several schools, and I can just speak for Mill Creek, but when kids come back, they ask about him. And to me, that’s the best compliment I can give him. When they come back, one of the first things they ask is, ‘How’s Coach Parham?’”