Larry Satchwell has spent much of his time since moving to metro Atlanta in 1978 as an educator and throwing coach in Gwinnett County. (Staff Photo: David Friedlander)
For more than 30 years, Larry Satchwell has been a fixture in the Gwinnett County school system, both as an elementary and middle school teacher and as a high school track and field throws coach at Shiloh and Parkview. The 62-year-old, who lives in Loganville with his wife Karen, still teaches (though now at Georgia State University) and coaches (both on the high school level and the Throw 1 Deep club), and is also active with the Highland Games when they come to Stone Mountain Park. Staff writer David Friedlander recently talked with Satchwell and he looked back, and forward, at both of his careers.
DF: How long have you been coaching throws?
LS: Since 1992. I started at Shiloh High School.
DF: I take it your interest in throwing stems from your participation in the sport from years ago.
LS: Yeah, I was an All-American hammer thrower in college, and in the Hall of Fame at Northern Illinois University.
DF: So, what brought you down here to Georgia?
LS: The job and the weather. I was actually training for the 1980 Olympics and thought I could get a lot more training sessions in if I came down here where the weather was nicer.
DF: I guess it didn’t work out like you planned, since the U.S. wound up boycotting the 1980 games in Moscow.
LS: Well, the University of Georgia at that time didn’t throw the hammer. So there were really no facilities, and then we boycotted. But then I found the Highland Games, … so I threw in that for 30 years as a professional. I didn’t want to start coaching until I thought I was pretty much finished with that. So, Jimmy Garrett over at Shiloh High School heard … that I knew something about throwing. So, he asked me to come over. I helped him out that year, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
DF: (Parkview head track coach) Matt Henson likes to joke about how he “stole” you from Shiloh after 18 years there. How’d that association come about?
LS: (Laughs) He did. It was a really hard decision for me to make (to leave Shiloh for Parkview) because I had some kids coming up who were going to be good the next few years. I knew Matt. I’d seen him around some track meets, and I knew (Parkview assistant coach and athletics director) Mark Whtley a little bit better than Matt. I have a lot of respect for both those guys. I just had an opportunity to work with Mark, knowing what his work ethic is, and I knew if he hired Matt, it had to be a good thing. It was a good decision (in hindsight). The kid that was going to be (Shiloh’s) best thrower moved to Buford that summer.
DF: So, while you coach primarily at the high school level, you’ve mostly taught at the elementary school level?
LS: I never taught at high school level. I’ve always taught at either at middle school or elementary school level. I was at Shiloh Elementary for 22 years.
DF: So now you’re teaching in college? That’s kind of a leap, no?
LS: I’m teaching P.E. majors their first content course at Georgia State University, and I work part-time in Newton County. They have a federal P.E.P. (Physical Education Program) grant that I’m the administrator for. It was a three-year grant, $750,000. So basically, it’s spending money.
DF: How different is it teaching elementary and middle school kids to teaching college students?
LS: The experience I bring to that class, I think, is really helping them understand the needs of what they have to bring at the elementary level. It’s an elementary physical education content course, so it’s teaching the basics. We just had a course today and (some of the students) couldn’t name the five different ways of jumping. That’s one of the things we work on.
DF: When you look back on all of the kids you’ve coached over the years, obviously (recent Parkview grad) John Patterson is one you’re particularly going to remember, since he just won a state championship in the discus. But who are some of the other top kids that you’ve worked with that stand out in your mind?
LS: Zach Helms at Shiloh. He got second in the state in the discus (in 2004). A guy just came out of nowhere and hit a 15-foot (personal record) when (Helms) had been leading until the last round. And Stephen Bridges. He got second in the discus and third in the shot one year. He was really an outstanding athlete. I’ve had a lot of guys who’ve gotten second and third, but John’s been my first champion.
DF: How thrilling was that moment for you? Almost as much as it was for him?
LS: It was great. John was a great competition (thrower). The guy who was in second place had thrown 180 feet, and John came so close to winning it last year. The year before, he was in second place and a guy came out with another P.R. You just never know when they’re going to hit those. (This year), all season John’s been saying, ‘We haven’t finished this. We haven’t finished this.’ It was just picture perfect. (Richard Delphin of Roswell) opens up with 169-something, and I didn’t want John to go all out. I wanted him to make sure he had five more throws in him. So he went 155 just like we’d planned. Then he comes in the next throw at 129, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no. This is a disaster.’ But going into the finals, he got his head together and moved ahead on his first throw of the finals, and his last throw of the finals, he had another good throw. He wrapped it up with 175-foot throws.
DF: On to another subject you brought up earlier — the Highland Games. I understand you’re now the announcer for them.
LS: I’m the announcer at Stone Mountain. I announce at Chicago and North Carolina at Grandfather Mountain (in Linville, N.C.) and in Glasgow, Kentucky. So, I’m still involved in about seven or eight games during they year as either an announcer or a judge. It was really great to find that. It’s a really good outlet for someone who likes to throw things. (Laughs) Because you get to throw things all day long. And they pay your gas money and hotel money and things like that. So, you get paid for throwing things all day long (laughs). That was really a lot of fun. I held the world record in the sheaf toss four different times. You throw a bag of straw over a bar with a pitchfork. It’s just a really obscure kind of thing, but it was one of the things I was good at. If you find something obscure enough, you can be a world record holder (laughs).
DF: , How did you get involved with the Highland Games?
LS: Mary Morrison, who taught at Grayson Elementary, she’d mentioned the games to me. Moving down here in 1978, one of the first things you do when you move to Georgia is go to Stone Mountain. Well, they had posters up all over the place saying, ‘The Highland Games are coming.’ I’d heard about them, but had never been in one. So, I went to one in October, and it was the first year they allowed amateurs to throw. So, I was throwing as an amateur, and I won all the events except for the caber toss. I’d never seen this event at all. They had this long tree, about 19 feet long, and they stand it up to you and say, ‘OK, it’s all yours.’ (Laughs) And I’m thinking, ‘OK, what am I supposed to do with this?’ So, you have to pick it up, keep it upright and then you run with it and try to flip it in (a circle). … The caber is the only thing you don’t throw for distance. You throw it for accuracy. Everything else is either height or distance, and I won all the other events hands down, but I’d never seen the caber before.
DF: It sounds like that kind of fun is addictive.
LS: Oh yeah. The nice thing about the Highland Games is it’s a real relaxed atmosphere. It’s not like track and field where you go and you hate your competitors. The Highland Games is a really family atmosphere. When one of our daughters was 3 years old, we took her down to Savannah for the Highland Games down there. So, it’s real family oriented. We’ve gotten to see a lot of the Southeast, and being a pro, we always pretty much broke even for the weekend.
DF: So, what are you doing with yourself now? I understand you’re teaching GSU part-time?
LS: Yeah, I just teach that one class. That’s on Mondays and Wednesdays. I’m .49 in Newton County, so that’s only three days a week or so. Then, I only coach on the side a couple days a week. So, it’s challenging.
DF: Challenging, but it sounds like you enjoy keeping busy.
LS: You know, I don’t know how I had time to work before because I’m really enjoying doing all these extra things right now,. Getting to see these young people at Georgia State University who are going to be teachers in a couple of years and really helping to start their careers, because it’s really their first course as major, that’s really rewarding.