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.
Johnson has developed winning high-school basketball teams for nearly
25 years, taking over three losing varsity programs and turning them
into winners in short periods of time. Of his 321 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 5
title of Coach Johnson's career a few weeks later. A second sectional
crown followed in 2007, and Coach Johnson then coached the Trojans to
their third straight league title in 2008 by posting a perfect 12-0
record in league play, netting Coach of the Year honors. His success
continued in 2009 with a league co-championship (34-2 league record the
past three seasons) and third sectional title in four years, with an
overall record of 20-5, his first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals
and more Coach of the Year accolades.
Johnson has made a number of radio and television appearances,
including the Oprah Winfrey and Jim Rome shows. In 2006 he met
President George W. Bush, Governor George Pataki, and Senator Hillary
Clinton, to name just a few luminaries. The Athena team was also paid a
visit at school by NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who is involved
in making the J-Mac story into a major motion picture. J-Mac's magic
moment won the ESPY for "Best Sports Moment" at the ESPN awards show
later that year. And, both J-Mac and Coach Johnson will be prominently
featured in a movie currently in development by Columbia Pictures
depicting the 2005-06 miracle season.
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 321-194, with divisional
titles in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008 and again in 2009. He has
had winning seasons in 16 of the last 17 years, finishing .500 the
once again in the air this past 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: he returned to the
Trojans this past season as a volunteer assistant coach, and expects to
be back in the same role in 2009-10. He and Coach Johnson were also
featured in a lengthy CBS Sports feature that aired during the 2009
Coach Johnson has rolled his accomplishments
and experiences into a presentation, "Dreams Really Do Come True,"
which he gives to various business and civic organizations around the
country. His one-hour talk also emphasizes "The Essence of Teamwork"
and "The Ultimate Level of Sportsmanship." 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.
Coach Johnson, 51, lives in Greece with his
wife of 28 years, Pat, and their son Tyler, 20. He is a
physical-education teacher at Athena and has served 14 seasons as the
Trojans' varsity coach.