COLUMN: Johnson was a true professional

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, January 6, 2021

For nearly as long as I have been sports editor for Leader Publications, I have had the pleasure of working with John Johnson of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Johnson became the first, and until Dec. 18, 2020, the only, MHSAA Communications director two years after I took over as the sports editor for the Dowagiac Daily News. For all practical purposes, Johnson has been the go-to guy at the MHSAA when it comes to dealing with the media on a day-to-day basis.

Over the years, Johnson has been the person at the MHSAA I dealt with whenever there was an issue, either at my end or at their end. He was the person I knew could answer the questions I needed to have answered. He was always professional, and he was quick to get you the information required so that we journalists could get our work done in a timely fashion. In dealing with others in a similar field, I can tell you from personal experience that is not always the case.

To say we had a great working relationship is probably a bit of an understatement. As the years went by, I relied on Johnson to be there when I needed him. I consider him a friend even though we never spent a lot of time together. I would have to believe that everyone that worked with Johnson throughout his 33-year career would tell you the same thing. He was just that kind of a guy.

I wish I could say that there was never a time when I got a call from Johnson letting me know that we had done something wrong. I can tell you that I can only recall two instances when that happened. Again, John was professional, and he got his point across. Both issues could have become bigger than they ended up being, but they were dealt with swiftly because of his pro-active work.

More importantly than all that, Johnson will leave behind a legacy that will be hard to follow. He leaves big shoes to fill. His replacement is in a similar situation as the new coach who follows a highly successful coach. There is going to be a lot to live up to. The old saying goes, ‘you never want to be the coach who follows a legend. You want to be the coach after him.”

Johnson will long be remembered for bringing the MHSAA into the future as it pertains to social media and television. He helped launch the Student Broadcast Program, which is one of the best in the entire country.

He was also instrumental is making the MHSAA Network a success. That network and the state’s partner — FOX Sports — have allowed the association to video broadcasts of almost all of its state finals. The School Broadcast Program, which was developed in 2008-09, would help Michigan take a leading role in developing the National Federation of High School Sports’ digital streaming of both live and on-demand events. Those programs really turned out to be handing when the COVID-19 pandemic kept many spectators out of the stands during this past fall sports season and the winter sports season yet to come.

I was saddened that the pandemic kept many of us from seeing John one last time before he officially retired in December. I would have loved to have shook his hand, looked him in the eye and told him exactly how much he has meant to high school sports in Michigan and to the thousands of reporters he worked with throughout his career.

I can only hope these words reach him and that he is already kicked back and enjoying retirement. It is well deserved.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at