close
close

UNDER REVIEW – Relationships, not championships, define Johnson’s 52-year career

UNDER REVIEW – Relationships, not championships, define Johnson’s 52-year career

Marc Johnson experienced every high school coach’s penultimate dream.

Yes, his Cherry Creek Bruins won the Colorado Class 5A state baseball championship.

Every prep coach, regardless of sport, hopes to one day build the best team in the state.

But that’s not the dream I’m talking about.

When Creek defeated local rival Regis Jesuit – not once, but twice in the same day – to win the coveted championship, what mattered more than anything else was who was in the stands.

“Fifty-something players from five decades showed up,” he said. “It was a truly humbling experience. The whole family idea really worked.

Johnson, 79, was wrapping up a 52-year career as the head baseball coach at Cherry Creek High School. Fifty-two years!

He learned long ago what is most important.

“What happened,” he explained, “was at first I thought, ‘I’m a coach. I’m just trying to become a better baseball player. However, over time I realized that developing relationships is more important than mastery.

“You become part of their life and they become part of your life. You’re trying to create a baseball family.

Talk to any high school coach – I talked to dozens of high school sports people over a decade early in my career at the newspaper – and almost every one of them will say something like this.

That’s what’s so special about high school coaches. They don’t earn enough to put in all their hours and effort just for the money.

“I realized that I had made some impact or Cherry Creek baseball had made some kind of impact on these boys that want to be here.

“A few people flew in from out of state. One of them came from Los Angeles and said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Everyone knew these would be my last games.

Johnson began training at Cherry Creek after training at Fort Hood while serving in the Army. His first Bruins team went 4-14. He had only one defeat in the next 51 seasons.

“I taught physical education at Walnut Hills Elementary School for six or seven years,” he said, “then a job came up at the high school and I moved there. I stayed there until 1999, when I retired.”

He continued to work at CCHS only as a coach for another 25 years.

“I thought I would teach high school and maybe I would make it, that I would be lucky to get into college,” he said.

Instead, he discovered the benefits of working with children aged 14 to 18.

Johnson’s teams won championships in 1983, 1992, five in a row from 1995-1999, 2012 and this year for a total of nine. Six other people made it to the finals but lost.

This means his teams have played for the championship 15 times – 28.8% of the times in 52 seasons.

“Because we won a couple of state championships, people think it’s easy,” he said. “It’s not. It’s extremely difficult.

“Everything has to go right. You have to stay away from injuries. You have to have guys who qualify. You have to have guys who are committed to each other.

“You have to keep people happy who aren’t new to it but still want to be a part of what you’re trying to do. And there are lots of conversations with parents. A lot of things become part of it.”

Johnson has talked to many other coaches over the years and knows that most – all the good ones who have been with this team for a long time – share his sentiments.

“Anyone who has been doing this for a long time starts to look at it this way,” he says.

“It’s fun to get a group together and try to get them to bond and work as a team rather than just doing it alone. We all need to know that there is something bigger than ourselves.”

Evidence of that was on display at All-Star Park in Lakewood as all the former players watched as the 2024 Creek team defeated Regis 11-1 and 5-2.

“When the kids come back,” Johnson reflects, “they never talk about the championship. They talk about relationships – with coaches and other players on the team. About how cool it was. . .

“I think that’s what made me stay.”

Denny Dressman is a 43-year veteran of the news industry, including 25 years at the Rocky Mountain News, where he started as the executive sports editor. He is the author of 16 books, including 9 on sports. You can write to Denny at denny’s address
[email protected].