Coach Jim Johnson
Coach Jim Johnson
By Mike Latona
Based on what transpired in a few short moments in early 2006, Coach Jim Johnson is now an authority on the subject of realizing your dreams. In his many public-speaking appearances, the Rochester, New York resident relates his role in a basketball game that got Hollywood calling. He also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, delivering his talks with a heartfelt style that has brought audiences to their feet.
Coach Johnson has developed winning high-school basketball teams for 30 years, taking over three losing varsity programs and turning them into winners in short periods of time. Of his 428 career victories, one in particular will surely never be duplicated.
On Feb. 15, 2006, Coach Johnson made the kindhearted gesture of inserting his autistic manager, Jason McElwain, now known to the world as J-Mac into Greece Athena High School’s final home game, which the Trojans won 79-43. J-Mac scored 20 points in just over four minutes, including six three-point baskets, to become an instant national celebrity. Coach Johnson, also, was featured in major news outlets around the country.
To make the Hollywood ending complete, Greece Athena captured the first Section V title of Coach Johnson’s career a few weeks later.
Coach Johnson was named Coach of the Year in 2006 by several Rochester-area organizations, and was also presented with a National Sportsmanship Award. These honors brought to light an impressive body of work over the past two decades. His career record is now 428-221, with divisional titles in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. He was also named All-Greater Rochester Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015. In 2016 Coach Johnson was named Monroe County Coach of the Year as well as receiving the Class A Section V Coach of the Year honors. Because he led his 2016 team to a 21-2 record, the team rose to Number 1 in New York State in Class A and he led the Trojans to a Number 1 Seed for the third consecutive season in the Class A Section V Tournament where they made the Championship game for the fourth consecutive season. He has had winning seasons in 22 of the last 23 years, finishing .500 the other year. In the last three seasons, Coach has led the Trojans to a 66-5 record which included the team reaching the Class A State Championship Game in 2015.
Magic was once again in the air in the 2009 season as Coach Johnson’s Greece Athena team rallied from 20 points down with a little more than a quarter to play to win its state-qualifier game. Perhaps not so coincidentally, J-Mac was on the bench for that monumental victory as well: he returned to the Trojans as a volunteer JV assistant coach, starting in 2008-2009. In 2012 Jason moved from JV to Varsity coaching and helped the Trojans win three consecutive Section V Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He and Coach Johnson were also featured in a lengthy CBS Sports feature that aired during the 2009 Final Four.
Coach Johnson, who is a graduate of both SUNY-Cortland and SUNY-Brockport, lives in Greece with his wife of 33 years, Pat, and their son Tyler, 25. Coach retired from his position as a physical education teacher at Athena in 2014 after 33 years and in 2015 Coach completed his 20th and final season coaching basketball and is looking forward to speaking full time to be able to educate and inspire more people.
Coach Johnson has rolled his accomplishments and experiences into two speaking presentations, “Dreams Really Do Come True” and "Leadership Lessons from Half-Court". Now that he has retired from full time teaching, he will continue delivering these messages to various businesses, associations and educational organizations around the country. Based on his years of experience, his speaking topics focus on concepts like teamwork, goal setting leading by example. For instance, he likes to point out that J-Mac’s big night was made possible by unselfish teammates who kept passing him the ball even though they hadn’t been instructed to do so. He also notes how the game video captures Athena bench players going as wild as the crowd with every J-Mac basket.