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All in the Family

As a three-sport varsity and travel softball coach, father and teacher, Michael Johnston knows that it all comes back to family.

Reporting by Lorren Perry; photos by Kelly Hoyt and Michael Bankston.

As someone constantly moving from field to classroom and back again, multi-sport coach and business teacher Michael Johnston spends most of his time focusing on how to be a successful coach and father. “I think time management and organization are the most important. At this point in my life, I’m married, I have three kids, coach three high school sports and travel softball, and my kids are all playing sports, so time management is huge and you have to surround yourself with good people,” Johnston said. “You have to have good assistants, you have to have parents that support you, you have to have an administration that's supportive, you have to have players that buy into your beliefs and your system, so it is a full-fledged deal.”

Among the players that bought into Johnston’s system were the members of the 2019 state champion varsity softball team, who defeated Cicero-North Syracuse 4-3 on June 15 in 11 innings. “It’s not so much plan and technique, it’s more philosophy. We are very aggressive on the base pads, we play a lot of small ball, we need timely hitting, we had the New York Class AA Player of the Year Laura Bennett on the mound. You build around the person in the center circle, the pitcher, and you know from that standpoint, get kids to believe in you as coaches and what you are teaching,” Johnston said.

At the girls varsity softball game against Johnson City on April 9, then-junior Erin Austin follows through on her swing. "We didn't have the talent that everyone was talking about," Austin said. "What we had was a group of girls that weren't playing for themselves or trying to have the best stats on the team, to get their name in the newspaper. We had girls who were playing for each other. That's part of the system that Coach J. wanted us to buy into—playing not for yourself but playing as a team and playing as a whole."

From his earliest years, Johnston fully committed to sports. “I grew up in a sports family; my father coaches, I coach, my brother coaches — so we are a very athletic-oriented family. My dad was a coach at Notre Dame High School for 18 years. He coached football and basketball and won a state championship for basketball. I got into coaching when I first got out of college 30 years ago,” Johnston said. “I was student teaching at Horseheads High School so I was the football and basketball coach there. I started coaching modified football and what was called ninth grade basketball that they used to have back then.”

This fall, Johnston is back on the sidelines at Memorial Stadium after eight years as the offensive coordinator for Elmira. Prior to his time with the Express, Johnston coached football for 18 seasons at Corning West High School.For me, the positive is that I get to work with the students that I see every day. It’s been good making relationships with the student body. I recognize faces now when I have kids in class because I see them on the playing field and I think that only enhances the relationships that I have with kids that I interact with on a daily basis, which I think is a big bonus.As football wraps up, Johnston won’t stop — this winter, he’ll take over for Bill Hopkins as the newest coach of the varsity boys basketball team.

In his first year as the varsity football team's offensive coordinator, Coach Michael Johnston has contributed to guiding the team to a 4-1 start, including a 23-14 win over Horseheads at the homecoming game on Oct. 4.

At a young age, Johnston viewed his dad as more than just a father figure. “I couldn’t have had a better mentor and a role model. He was the toughest coach that I have ever had. There was always an expectation. When you are the coach’s kid, you get made the example or the coach is harder on you than the others for the right reasons, so people don’t think that you are getting the easy way out. My father was always demanding and disciplined and he expected a lot from me as far as leadership and work ethic goes. I know that he was very meticulous and attentive to detail. He was in education for years and coached for years and fought in Vietnam, was in the Army, and so he was very detail-oriented and disciplined, regimented and organized,” Johnston said.

Like his father before him, Johnston knows that he can play an active role in his athletes’ lives, one that goes far beyond the field. “With so many broken homes nowadays and for me in whatever district I’ve coached in, it’s an opportunity to be that male figure in their life. I can name a lot of kids that have really bought into the being a part of a team concept and being coached; I believe that kids want structure. You know, I think there are kids that sometimes need that father figure in their lives. Although they do want freedom to think and act for themselves, I think that they want you to have a plan for them, so I give my players specific goals and expectations.”

As a coach with decades of experience on sidelines and dugouts, winning isn’t the only thing that defines a season for Johnston. “I think the biggest thing that I have had in my mind is defining what success is. We've won league titles as coaches in programs and whatnot and we've won state titles, sectional titles, and regional titles so we've won a lot of championships,” Johnston said.

But for him, a season’s achievements are less about score and more about the progress he sees in his team. “On the other hand, I’ve had teams that have not had the most talent that have been as much or more of a gratifying experience as a coach—to see how far they’ve come from the beginning to the end. It doesn't always have so much to do with your record, and I think as you grow older, you start to appreciate that more; it’s not always the record that determines your success.”


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