Sun sets on outstanding career

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, August 12, 2014

GATESVILLE – If you plan to go out, do it in style.

After 30 years of coaching and teaching young student-athletes, Wallace Johnson has opted to go out on top.

The “Renaissance Man” has continued to do what he does best….he continues to map out strategies that produce winning teams.

Over the last two years at Central Middle School, his athletic teams have combined to win five championships and finish as runners-up on three other occasions….that’s considered a “career” by most coaches.

Those titles came in the sports of cross country (two), track & field (two) and boys basketball (one).

“Wow, that’s all I have to say. I guess I finished with a flurry,” said Johnson, a HertfordCounty native. “My career has been great.”

That career began in Hertford County in 1984.

“I really appreciate that county, and Jane Burke for hiring me and Dennis Deloatch was insisting on me getting my teaching degree at ECU. They are great people over there. They work so hard for the students,” Johnson noted.

However, Johnson’s winning formula isn’t just confined to athletics. His students in both counties won several Quiz Bowl championships over the years, qualifying for the state championships. Proof in point was the second place finish at the statewide event by his Gates County Quiz Bowl team in 2012. Last year they placed fifth in the state.

“Those teams were really good, from 1996-2014,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot out of you. It is a grind. The students are so smart, and year-by-year you seek an edge to a winning formula.”

While in HertfordCounty he helped with the track team, who won seven conference championships. He also assisted with the cross-country team. His coaching style led Saeed Jones and Terrel Cramer, and Hannah Simpson at Gates become championship runners.

“All the kids I have worked with over the years have been terrific in both counties,” bragged Johnson. “Some of the kids have been to the nationals as well. I try to expose those kids from northeast North Carolina to as much as possible. They can compete with anyone.”

Johnson has always possessed a positive attitude, which contributed to his success.

Over the past two summers, on the downside of his career, Johnson was blessed to experience fellowships at Columbia and Harvard, two Ivy League Schools. He was picked from over 5,000 teachers from across the country.

“I really can’t explain it, in my first 25 years I applied but I got nothing but a letter thanking me for applying,” said Johnson. “It was great studying in Boston, and New York, and sharing it with my students”

He contributes his success to his parents, who were sharecroppers.

“They worked so hard. I love them for the values they are instilled in me. Plus I have a supportive wife (Alma). She has been great, and is my best friend,” he stated.

Johnson says he will miss the students, but not the crazy politics.

“That’s the state of education today,” Johnson noted.

On the other end of the spectrum, Johnson will be missed for his love of teaching, coaching, and his positive attitude.

“While coaching, and running cross-country, I was never associated with a losing season, and that takes in while in high school, then in college, and a career in coaching,” he said. “Wow, that’s phenomenal if you think about it.”

Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Public Schools, sees Johnson as a game changer.

“He started a track program, and already it’s successful. He will be missed,” Williams said. “Coach Johnson always thinks outside of the box, because Gates County doesn’t have a track. He did everything from scratch. He is just remarkable. He knows how to motivate kids. This chapter is closing on a person who has always been under the radar doing great things.”

As Johnson and others in the coaching ranks fully understand, football is “the sport” – the proverbial cash cow.

Johnson’s boys team this past season gave Central Middle School its first basketball championship in 25 years.

“I know the other sports are stepchildren to football, but you do your best and win and support them all,” he said.

As far as those who have mentored Johnson along his 30-year career, he said there are too many people to thank.

“It has been a wonderful ride, but it is time to get on the horse and ride off into the sunset,” Johnson admitted.

Charles Simmons, Athletic Director and longtime boys basketball coach at Hertford County High School, praised Johnson for a lifetime of helping to shape and mold student-athletes.

“Wallace is the most well-rounded coach that I have met in 30 years,” Simmons said. “The kids really love him and would run through a brick wall for him. He has that touch. I wish he would consider coaching here in Hertford County again.”

James Woods, Principal of Central Middle School, stated, “Johnson is the best motivator I have ever met. He is always positive and that’s why he is successful.”

Even though the trophy cases at the schools he has coached at are overflowing with tributes to the success of coaches like Johnson, he prefers to stand out of the limelight.

“My kids often tell me, ‘Coach, your name is never in the newspaper’, and to that I reply it’s not always best to be in the front and in the long run all of your hard work will speak for itself.

“Thanks, Hertford and Gates counties, for allowing me to teach your children,” Johnson concluded.

Is Johnson’s horse really headed off into the sunset? Maybe so, maybe not.

“Knowing Wallace like I do, I doubt he’s finished with education. He is always cooking up something and I bet you he already has something up his sleeve. He is a shrewd poker player,” said Williams.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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