Legendary coach enjoys annual player reunions
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – John Lowery Sr. always looks forward to the third Saturday in August.
That’s when he can count on catching up with many of the former players who helped make his storied coaching career possible.
More than 30 former Jefferson High School baseball players returned to Sager Field in Shenandoah Junction last weekend to participate in the eighth annual alumni baseball games.
The first game featured former players who graduated in the 1990s against a team of players who graduated in the 2000s.
A second game featured players who graduated in the 1970s against those who graduated in the 1980s.
In the middle of it all stood Lowery, the iconic patriarch of the program and the all-time winningest high school coach in West Virginia history.
A 2002 inductee into the National Federation of State High School Associations’ Hall of Fame, Lowery has coached the Cougars to 1,166 victories since 1973, including 10 state Class AAA championships – the most recent of which was in 2011.
Jefferson finished 25-7 this past season, but fell in the postseason sectional tournament.
Of course, without players, all teams would go nowhere. And as for Lowery’s part in the annual alumni games, he does his best not to pick sides.
“It’s an opportunity for all the guys to reconnect,” Lowery said. “I just enjoy sitting there and watching them. Mixing between the groups and learning what’s current with them. I’m just an observer.”
On Saturday, a pair of informal games was followed by a lunch picnic featuring fried chicken and an assortment of covered dishes.
Lowery, who has coached hundreds of players over the years including his own three sons, said the weekend event has grown since its inception. He said he hopes to continue to build upon the newfound tradition.
In the past, the alumni games have welcomed returning players from as far away as Connecticut and Georgia.
Last week, the team consisting of graduates from the 2000s defeated their counterparts from the 1990s 10-5 during a seven inning game.
With fewer players available for the “old-timers” game, some younger players pulled double-duty to help field full squads for the late game.
“There’s no competitive juices other than the personal pride of the guys,” Lowery said. “They want to hit the ball when they get up. If the ball’s hit to them, they certainly want to be able to throw it across the field. There’s no grinding of the teeth if they don’t, just some good laughs. A good-natured ribbing that you find in baseball sometimes.”
Lowery said one of the old adages of coaching is that you can truly see what kind of a team you had if you wait 20 years and witness what those former players have done with their lives. He said such reflection shines positively on Jefferson baseball.
“It’s good to see a lot of these guys when they come back, that they’ve gone on to be successful with their families and so forth,” Lowery said. “It’s fun to hear what they’re doing with their lives.”