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Retired educator, coach remembered for putting kids first

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A Greenwood schools administrator brought his love of teaching, wisdom from years of working in schools and a stern but fair discipline to the job, all traits formed during nearly four decades in the classroom and on sports fields.

The experience John R. Irons built over 37 years in Greenwood Community Schools helped former middle school principal Vicki Noblitt learn how to be a school administrator, she said. She was lucky to have his guidance when taking on her first job running a school, she said.

“He helped me get through those first few years,” Noblitt said.

Irons, 73, worked as a math and physical education teacher, coach, athletics director and assistant principal before retiring in 2003. He died May 6 while on vacation in New Mexico.

Irons always put children first, former Superintendent David Edds said. As athletics director, he’d find time to talk with athletes or continually check in with coaches to talk about their seasons. Even when Greenwood teams were struggling and the community would get fed up with a coach that wasn’t winning, he’d encourage those coaches to remember their role wasn’t just to win games but to continue teaching those kids, Edds said.

“He was able to talk with coaches and tell them ‘Don’t forget why we’re here. It’s for the kids,’ and he did that with the parents as well,” Edds said.

Irons raised three children of his own, so he had a fatherly tone when working with students who were getting into trouble at the middle school, Noblitt said. He would dole out punishment as needed, but he always tried to get a student to understand why they were in trouble and try to teach them a lesson to avoid the same kind of behavior, she said.

Outside of the school, Irons was also heavily involved in Greenwood Christian Church and never passed up an opportunity to help, pastor Shan Rutherford said. He worked as a church elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher and helped organize several events at the church. But he wouldn’t shy away from jobs like greeting people before Sunday service or offering to help sweep up around the church, Rutherford said.

“We’d lose a custodian for some reason and he’d take his boys and we’d take my boys and go over there and clean the building. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty and to do the things that needed to be done,” Rutherford said.

His wife Doris, who died a few years before him, was a teacher, too, and both had touched so many students and parents during their time in Greenwood, Edds said.

“That will be the legacy they leave, whether it’s students John had as a math teacher or athletic director or assistant principal,” Edds said. “He understood the mission of what an educator is and always looked at what was going to be best for kids.”

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