Friday, May 31, 2013
The hundreds of young men who played high school baseball in Georgetown in the last 44 years have one thing in common: they all played for coach Mike Johnson.
The next hundreds will not have that pleasure.
Johnson retired from coaching at Georgetown High School on Wednesday. He also coached at Howard and Winyah high schools.
Tony Jordan played for Howard in 1971 when Johnson got his first head coaching job. It was Howard’s first year competing in baseball.
“He is definitely a special individual,” Jordan said. “He has given his entire life to the kids. I have great respect for him. He’s made a huge difference in a lot of kids’ lives.”
Johnson showed his prowess in coaching early, leading the Tigers to a tie for the conference championship in that inaugural season.
Howard and Winyah were segregated at the time, but Jordan said Johnson treated everybody equally. And he treated them like they were his own children.
“He took us in just like he was a parent,” Jordan said. “His concern was for not only being a coach but being a mentor, being a person who teaches more than just baseball.”
If a player’s family didn’t have money to buy a glove or a pair of cleats, Johnson would buy them.
Jason West, who played for Georgetown High from 1991-1994, got a glove from Johnson during his junior year Johnson told West to pay him back whenever he could.
It took West all season to earn enough money to pay for the glove, but when he went to give it to Johnson, Johnson said “what glove?”
After he graduated, whenever West needed money he could count on Johnson to pay him to do some work, either at Mike Johnson Park, or at the farm Johnson’s dad owned.
“He always looks out for his former players,” West said.
West spent the last two seasons on Johnson’s coaching staff.
Waccamaw High baseball coach Jeff Gregory got his start when Johnson hired him to coach the Bulldogs’ pitchers and catchers in 1998.
Gregory said the fact that he was young and strong and could help maintain the field helped get him the job.
“He accidently taught me the game of baseball,” Gregory said. “I’ve learned a vast amount from him and emulated a lot of things he’s done.”
“Guys like him, you don’t get many of them any more,” Gregory added.
Bobo Thompson, who was on the Winyah team that won the Lower State title in 1980, credits a lot of Johnson’s success to his mastery of the rules.
“He didn’t need a rule book, the rules were in his head,” Thompson said. “He knew the rule book better than the umpires did and used that to his advantage.”
Thompson said Johnson’s knowledge of the rules was so well-known, he could convince people that there was a rule, when in actuality, there wasn’t.
Thompson’s son Carter, a ninth-grader, played junior varsity this season. Watching Johnson coach his son convinced him that the old coach had mellowed a little bit.
“A lot of the things the kids do now, if we had done that back then he would have frowned on it,” Thompson said.
Joe Isaac, who hired Johnson away from Howard in 1976, said the coach also had a knowledge of the game, knowledge of people and the ability to reach people.
“He could get the best out of whatever he had,” Isaac said. His teams “achieved to the maximum.”
Isaac and Johnson have been friends since their pre-teen years playing recreation baseball. They were seniors at Winyah High when the school finally started a baseball team.
Before becoming athletic director at Winyah, Isaac coached baseball and his Gators were the first team Johnson beat as a head coach.
Isaac later spent 30 years at Johnson’s side in the dugout before retiring two years ago.
“He kept up with the game he didn’t let the game slip by him,” Isassc said.
Even at 65, Johnson could still relate to his players.
“He always talked to us straight,” said Seth Wall, a junior on this year’s squad. “We could always go talk to him if we needed to. I really appreciate all he’s done for us.”
Wall will be a member of the first Georgetown High baseball team coached by someone other than Mike Johnson next year.
"Senior year is definitely going to be different without him out there." By Chris Sokoloski