How several local sports tournaments and organizations are honoring Cobb’s past and future.
By Michael J. Pallerino
In 2020, John Silvey remembers sitting in a board meeting as the director of sponsorships for the first year of the Lemon Street Classic (LSC). As the discussion moved around the table, Silvey couldn’t help but feel honored to be a part of what was being proposed. The basketball tournament would be part of the Marietta City Schools’ commitment to restore the significance of the once-historic elementary school — the first for African American children in Cobb County.
Established in 1887 (and rebuilt in 1951), Lemon Street High School was a key provider of education for Black children during segregation. The school’s last class graduated in 1966, right before its student body was integrated with Marietta High School and various other Cobb schools. Today, as a testament to its significance in the Black community, the site was recently added to the Georgia Registry of Historic Places.
“I was easily drawn to LSC because of the real purpose behind the tournament,” Silvey says. “It gives a voice to those who may have lost it when their high school was demolished. The event honors the legacy of the education these students received and recognizes their contributions to the community and their families.”
In his three years as tournament director, Silvey has had a first-hand look at how the event harmoniously marries Marietta’s historic past with the innovation and thoughtfulness of Cobb’s diverse and growing sports community. This past December, more than 25 teams from Georgia, and five from outside the state, participated in the three-day tournament. On the legacy side, over the past four years, the event also has recognized alumni and supporters of Lemon Street High School.
The school’s transformation from a storage facility — the role it eventually played after closing its doors in the 1970s — to a bastion of history and education has been a testimony to the community and its legacy. For example, in February 2021, the Lemon Street building reopened its doors to help educate students. In addition, the Marietta Schools Foundation fully funded the design and creation of historic markers outside and inside the building that denote its journey before, during, and after integration. There also are plans for it to house the Marietta Performance Learning Center.
With the support of the local community and businesses, the Lemon Classic continues to build its own legacy of giving. Take its recent partnership with the Ludacris Foundation, which will enable tournament organizers to give out two scholarships in the Lemon Street name. “The Lemon Street Classic Tournament brings communities and families together in a very unique way,” Silvey says. “The tournament is bringing revenue to Cobb County by patronizing local businesses and hotels. We are using local restaurants for our Hospitality Room. And we continue to recognize Lemon Street alumni each year, which is the purpose of the tournament. And on the sports side, we are bringing highly competitive high school basketball teams together. It offers a great sense of community.”
At one with the community
Growing up the middle child in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Silvey learned the intricacies of hard work and perseverance. Jumping in the restaurant world at an early age, he took a job with Long John Silver’s, eventually working his way up the ladder to general manager.
After getting married, Silvey moved to Marietta, where an assistant manager job at Zaxby’s led to an opportunity to become a managing partner in two Zaxby’s locations (one location was closed in 2021 as a direct result of the pandemic). Silvey’s restaurant is actively involved in the Partners in Education program, assisting 15 local schools. Beth, Silvey’s wife of 20 years, was a teacher (now retired) in the Marietta City Schools district.
Silvey’s affinity for his community is deep. After becoming foster parents, the Silveys adopted twin newborn girls, which expanded their vision of giving back to the community. Silvey was a board member and president of the Cobb County Foster Adoptive Parent Association for years, and he worked with a peer-to-peer mentoring program in Marietta Middle and Park Street Elementary Schools called My Next Big Adventure, as well as the End Hunger Alliance. Additionally, Silvey serves on the Student Governance Team for Marietta Middle School and the Board for the Marietta College and Career Academy. In 2022 and 2023, he received the Cobb Chamber Community Service Excellence Award.
“I love that what I do isn’t a job. It is a way to connect with the community and provide services that I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else.”
That’s why when the Florida-based Southeastern Fastpitch Tournament (SFP) was looking for a tournament director in Georgia, Silvey jumped on a plane to go meet with them. After finding it was a great fit for both groups, Silvey signed on to manage another competition.
The move was inspired in part by his involvement in the Marietta Metro Softball Program. After discovering there was no feeder program for Marietta High School, Silvey decided to find a solution. Since his daughters were at the age to be in the program, he began coaching in 2022 and 2023. Heading into 2024, he will move to a director-only role for the program, as well as become president of the Marietta High School Softball Booster Club Program. “The amount of talented young girls that had no place to play softball during the summer/beginning of school inspired me to want to start this program,” he says. “In order for a high school program — no matter what it is — to be good, it needs the talent coming from the younger grades. If there is no program at the middle school grades, the talent won’t be there for the high school like it could be.”
That made the Southeastern Fastpitch Tournament an easy decision. The tournaments, held in Florida (and now Georgia in 2024) from March through November, help connect families, and give the young women a fun and competitive atmosphere to show off their talents. And thanks to its recent partnership with the nonprofit charitable organization First2Home, SFP can help bring together players who may not have been able to play, as well as connect them to higher education associations and possibly help make career choices.
“The Southeastern Fastpitch Tournaments will deliver a lot to the community, businesses, and families,” Silvey says. “Teams that may not have been able to play against each other can now come together in one tournament. Families can meet different softball families. Businesses benefit from the local revenue that the tournaments bring in, not to mention the hotels that the tournament teams and families may need. And certain SFP tournaments will be partnering with a local nonprofit organization to support the local community in different ways.”
As he moves into the next phase of community and sports development, Silvey is helping set the Cobb County area to be a drawing ground for families interested in sports, community, and history. “I believe it is very important for the community to support and engage with each other. By having community support, young people can play a sport they love; they can feel more engaged and want to continue to have a long career. Each of these are tied to the community in ways that inspire participation, growth, and learning. I chose to move here because of all the opportunities there are to help the community.”
As Cobb continues to grow, the value of building community through sports continues to help share a sense of purpose, unity, and belonging. By uniting sports with history, culture, and growth, events such as the Lemon Street Classic, Southeastern Fastpitch Tournaments, and Marietta Metro Softball Program, are creating a supportive environment where residents not only thrive as athletes, but as contributors.