Mike Ballew grew up in the bucolic Fannin County community of Epworth. He had two siblings, both sisters. Most of the other boys in the community were older than Mike so he had to develop his athletic skills and toughness early in life to be competitive on the playing fields. He attended Epworth Elementary School and credits the teachers there for providing him with direction as well as many lifelong friendships.
The basketball seasons of 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1967-68 at West Fannin High School represent an historical period in local athletics, for two reasons. First, the Yellow Jacket boys basketball teams advanced to the state tournament in each of those years. Never before had this hat trick been accomplished by a sports program in the county. And only Johnny Farmer’s Fannin County High School girls basketball teams of the 1990s and 2000s have matched the feat.
The second historical fact about those three West Fannin teams is that one player started for each of the teams. Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Mike Ballew was the starting point guard, and ‘coach on the floor’, for three consecutive years as Coach Tom Foster’s boys made trips to the big Georgia Class AA tourney in Atlanta.
Mike made the West Fannin High School varsity squad as a sophomore in 1965-66 and soon took over a starting guard position. He was the only sophomore starter on a veteran team that included three seniors and one junior on the starting squad. This team finished with a 19-9 record and were the runners-up to East Rome in the Region 3AA tournament held that season at the West Fannin gym. West Fannin advanced to the state tournament and lost by one point in the first round. Mike Ballew led the team in assists and grew into a leadership role as he directed the team from his guard position.
The West Fannin teams of 1966-67 and 1967-68, Mike Ballew’s junior and senior years won 23 and 19 games, respectively. Both teams finished as runners up in the Region and went on to compete in the state tournaments each year. Again, Mike led the team in assists both season and was elected as team co-captain as a junior. He was the captain of the team as a senior.
Mike Ballew was named to the region all-tournament teams as a junior and as a senior. He excelled defensively and chipped in with 12.7 points per game during the 1967-68 season. Tom Foster, Mike’s coach during his basketball career at West Fannin maintains that Mike was “one of the best ball handlers, if not the best, to play at West Fannin”.
Mike exhibited his all-around athletic skills during his senior year of 1967-68. He did not play football during his first three years in high school but decided to give the sport a try as a senior. He made the team and was a substantial contributor to the Yellow Jacket offensive arsenal as a halfback that season. He made a number of nice runs and scored a touchdown against Calhoun. He made two critical plays, one a 26-yard pass reception and the other a 21-yard run, to set up touchdowns in the victory over Union County.
West Fannin fielded a baseball team in the spring of 1968 for the first time in almost a decade. Mike Ballew was the starting shortstop for that team, playing a solid defensive game and hitting around .350.
Mike’s basketball skills did not go unnoticed and he was awarded a basketball scholarship by Truett-McConnell College upon his graduation from high school. He started both seasons at Truett-McConnell and was selected as the team’s best defensive player both years. He graduated from Truett-McConnell in 1970 with a grade point average of 3.4. He was on the Dean’s List four of his six quarters there. He was active in student activities and was elected as an outstanding sophomore by the faculty and his fellow students.
After graduating from Truett-McConnell, Mike continued his studies at the University of Georgia, where he earned a BBA degree in 1972. He entered the business world in sales with Cheesbrough Ponds for two years before deciding that he wanted to pursue a career in education. He returned to school at North Georgia College and earned his Masters degree in education in 1978.
Mike began his career in education at Blue Ridge Elementary School in 1978 and for the next 35 plus years he worked in a field where he “enjoyed going to work each day”. His professional accomplishments are many and include the following: he was a principal for nine years, assistant superintendent for four years, county school superintendent for five and one-half years, a coach (two sports) in Fannin County for ten years and was the recipient of the Harold Hammontree Leadership Award in Pickens County. This prestigious award is given to an individual who goes above and beyond in making the Pickens School System better. He was also the first Recreation Director (a part time position in the beginning) in Fannin County.
Mike Ballew married Sherri Queen in 1979. Sherri is also a Fannin County native. They have two adult children and one granddaughter. Mike and Sherri continue to make their home in Epworth.
Mike Ballew gives the following testimonial about the importance of sports in his life: “Being involved in athletics teaches you that you have to work hard and work with your teammates to have success. Even though you don’t always win, you learn that you have to get back up every time you get knocked down. This helps you prepare for real life because you will get knocked down. It is how you deal with getting knocked down that makes you or breaks you. My family taught me many valuable lessons and playing ball for good coaches reinforced those lessons. I truly appreciate what playing sports has meant to me”.