It was not very many years ago that Sawyer Bardwell was a nemesis to Chewelah athletics. As a Colville Indian quarterback and pitcher back in 2008-2010, he was named to the all-league teams for both sports.
Now, Bardwell is embarking on a different challenge. After completing this spring season as a Cougar assistant coach, he is succeeding Luke Jeanneret as Chewelah’s new head varsity baseball coach. He is already working with his players, coaching one of the community’s three American Legion summer baseball teams.
Although his name is unfamiliar to some patrons of the school district, the students and staff of Gess Elementary know the new Cougar coach as Mr. Bardwell, who currently teaches one of Chewelah’s three kindergarten classes. He will be teaching a fifth grade class beginning in the fall.
Following high school graduation, Bardwell accepted a baseball scholarship at Mt. Hood College in Oregon, where he pitched until suffering a career-ending injury. He then transferred to Carroll College in Montana and played two years of football there as a wide receiver.
“It seemed like every receiver on the team was a former quarterback,” he joked.
Bardwell, and Ken Chartrey coached the Chewelah JV baseball team through an 18-1 winning season this spring, so he is excited about the future of Cougar baseball.
“I loved coaching them,” he said. “They are so hard-working and coachable. I don’t think anyone could outwork them. They all wanted to keep playing after the season was over. They thought there should be a state baseball tournament for JV teams, and they believed that if there was, they would win it.”
Bardwell wants that same attitude and work ethic to continue up into the varsity program this coming year.
“I want a different look for next year,” he said. “I am a big attitude and effort guy because I feel that those are two things you can always control. The kids have got to develop a positive mental attitude and give me their best efforts. I want to build a positive winning team culture here in Chewelah. There were varsity games that we should have won this year, but we lost because the kids didn’t believe they could win and we beat ourselves. That is what has to be changed.
“Baseball is a mental game. It will try to play mind games in a player’s head. We have to replace doubts with confidence.”
So, what kind of a coach can we expect Bardwell to be?
“Baseball should be fun,” he said. “My coaching style is to be skilled and competitive, but also to keep it light. Keep it loose. Keep it fun.
“You won’t see me arguing with umpires, parents, or players. If I need to talk to a parent or a player, it will be one-on-one in private. And, I want the players to be responsible for their own decisions. If a player has a concern, I want him to talk to me about it, not his parents.
“Baseball, like all team sports, is a place for learning life skills and lessons. I’m also huge on three-sport athletes.”
Working on summer schedules with other coaches, Bardwell hopes to encourage players to play multiple sports and not make them choose.
Bardwell is using this summer’s American Legion season to test and fine-tune his coaching philosophy.
“We have 12 kids on our summer team,” he explained. “It’s made up of some of the high school JV kids, plus a few of the younger varsity players. We even have a player from Colville and another from Trail, B.C. This will give the kids more games and more at-bats, and they will be better players by the end of the season.”
Chewelah is also fielding another single-A American Legion team this summer, made up of seventh and eighth grade players. It is being coached by Cody Sweat and Cordell Bean.
The AAA Northeast Forty-Niner team is being coached by Eric Krausz and Conner Parker.
Bardwell wants to retain coaches Wade Carpenter, Matt Robertson, and Chartrey, in the high school baseball program.
But, most of all, he is excited about next year’s baseball season.
“It will still be a young team,” he said, “with only four seniors and a lot of good juniors and sophomores.”
Bardwell and his wife Abigail are the parents of year-old twins, a girl, Paxlynn, and a boy, Parker. He enjoys being active with his family and going on hikes and trips.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to stay in Chewelah to teach and coach,” he said, “and I also like the outdoors and hunting, so this is an excellent fit for my family and me.
“I bought myself a .308 rifle for graduation and now I will finally be able to take some time and break it in.”
And, of course, they are all Seattle Mariner fans.
“We took the twins to their first Mariners game last weekend, against the Minnesota Twins. The Mariners lost, but my twins had a good time,” he concluded.
By Geno Ludwig/The Independent Staff