GREENSBORO — Blood may be thicker than water, but water can form a pretty strong bond, too. Especially when it’s chlorinated.
That’s what will bring together former swimmers for Grimsley and the Greensboro Swimming Association on Saturday, Aug. 6, at Lindley Park Pool to honor their former coach, Bob Sawyer.
Two former Grimsley swimmers from the Class of 1974, Peter Byrd and Wayne Simpson, have organized the reunion. They’ve already heard from about 75 former swimmers who are planning to attend, many with their significant others, but they are hoping to spread the word to those they haven’t been able to contact.
“In the summer we swam at Lindley Pool, boys on one side and girls on the other,” says Byrd, who lives in Falls Church, Va. “We all knew each other, and when you swim with the same people for a decade – which some of them did – you really are a family.”
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Now it’s time for a family reunion.
“There were people I competed against as an 8-year-old in 1964 who I know are going to be there next Saturday, which is really cool,” Byrd says.
Many of the boys and some of the girls were coached at Grimsley by Sawyer, who graduated from what was then known as Greensboro Senior High School in 1955. He won two individual state titles while swimming for the Whirlies and legendary coach Bob Jamieson and helped them win team championships in 1954 and ’55.
Now 85, Sawyer put together a career that has earned him induction into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame and the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, as well as the hall of fame at East Carolina University, where he won two national championships in the backstroke as a swimmer.
He returned to Grimsley in 1961 and spent 30 years at the school. His teams won 16 consecutive conference championships and an unprecedented 15 straight NCHSAA state titles in swimming. He also coached track, cross country and junior varsity football during his career and became the Whirlies’ director of athletics before his retirement. Grimsley’s gymnasium is named in his honor.
It’s hard to put into words what Sawyer has meant to Byrd, he says. “He’s such an all-encompassing person in terms of his involvement in our lives,” he adds. “He played the role of dad to me in some ways. He played the role of coach, mentor. He taught phys ed at Grimsley when I was there, so if I got in trouble, guess who knew about it? He’s one of those people who really helped define Grimsley.”
But Byrd wants to make sure those who swam for Sawyer with GSA and not the Whirlies know they’re also welcome at the reunion. Some are expected from as far away as Florida, Texas and Brooklyn.
“Several guys, the moment you mentioned Coach Sawyer’s name their eyes lit up,” Byrd says. “Everybody has fond memories of him.”
And Sawyer has fond memories of them.
Bob and his wife, Sue, let Byrd know about a week ago “how excited they are to see everybody,” he says.