When the four-day run of Bye Bye Birdie concluded Saturday evening at Harlem High School, the curtain also fell on the career of one of Columbia County’s brightest teaching stars.
Retiring Harlem High drama teacher Roy Lewis directed his final show at the school with the musical and concluded what should become an enduring legacy.
With an increasingly important emphasis on academics in public schools, too often arts programs go unappreciated. And in extracurriculars, athletic success typically wins the lion’s share of applause. That wasn’t the case Saturday, as a sold-out crowd heaped well-deserved praise upon Lewis with a standing ovation, a shower of roses tossed onto the stage, gag gifts, and a line of hundreds waiting for hugs.
Lewis wasn’t just a moderate success; he was a franchise phenomenon. There were just seven of the 29 years in which Lewis directed drama at Harlem High that the school did not win a region championship. (How many baseball players can boast of a .758 batting average?) The program also racked up five state championships under Lewis’ guidance, and once was chosen to take part in the prestigious Edinburgh (Scotland) Festival Fringe, the world’s largest annual arts festival.
Many athletic coaches willingly would sacrifice a limb for that kind of success on a ball field.
Lewis’ success came beneath the spotlights of a small stage at a little country school that earned the admiration and envy of much larger drama programs in Georgia, throughout the nation and even across the Atlantic Ocean.
Thank you, Roy Lewis, for your dedication to your students, to Harlem, and to the arts.