He makes a difference on and off the field

Mike Johns has been coaching football and track and field for 18 years. The state high school athletic association has been giving out the Homer Thompson Memorial Eight Who Make A Difference Award the same number of years.

A few weeks ago, they caught up with each other.

For his practice of good sportsmanship and dedication to his sports, Johns, a Mount Pleasant High coach, was named the 2010 Region 6 winner of the award. A committee selects an honoree from each of the state high school athletic association's eight regions.

Thompson was a longtime coach at Winston-Salem Parkland and is a member of the NCHSAA Hall of Fame.

"Homer Thompson's name is affixed to this award because he certainly did make a difference in the lives of many and truly was an outstanding role model," said Davis Whitfield NCHSAA executive director, in a news release.

Mount Pleasant Athletic Director Gary Calamari felt so strongly about John's credentials that he submitted his name for consideration in early April. About a month later, Johns received a letter about earning the recognition.

"I was mowing the baseball field," said Calamari. "And he hollered down, 'Hey coach, I got that Homer Thompson award.'"

Calamari said he initially nominated Johns in 2009. When he didn't get a reply, he sent in the nomination again this year.

"I thought he was deserving," said Calamari. "He's a great guy. He's great with the kids. He expects the kids to behave. He's a leader on and off the field. He runs a real tight program."

Johns landed at Mount Pleasant in 1999 after spending six years at West Stanly and one at East Rowan. The Tigers finished 3-8 in each of his first two football seasons.

His third team had a 7-5 record and started a string of eight straight state playoff appearances, including the 2007 team that finished 14-1 and reached the 2AA semifinals. Johns said that while the Tigers had numerous skilled players, "their heart and desire defined them more than their talent."

One of Johns' most vivid memories in track and field is his first season as the girls coach in spring 2000. The Tigers won the Rocky River Conference championship, the only time Johns remembers that happening in his 11 years at Mount Pleasant.

"It was a miserable day weather-wise," said Johns. "I figured we have a lemon here, we're going to make lemonade. We sang songs, we kept them upbeat. Our girls responded. We went out and won some early events. We got a big lead through the field events."

Johns took a break from track and field for several years this decade but now serves formally as the boys head coach. He coaches the sprinters, hurdlers, and relay teams for both the boys and girls squad.

Johns and this year's other recipients of the Homer Thompson Memorial Award were recognized at the NCHSAA's annual meeting May 6 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Coincidentally, one of the other winners was Southwest Guilford wrestling coach Jim Coggins, whom Johns met while logging some observations as a student teacher in the early '90s.

"My (coaching) philosophy is sports are a tool for growth," said Johns. "In sports, you have adversity, perseverance, commitment and dedication. You can measure yourself by how you handle your sport, how you prepare and how you do in the contest.

"You really learn about yourself. Sports for me has helped mold me into the person I am. (That includes) my coaches, my experiences on the field, my preparation, the people I've met when I was young, and my 18 years of coaching. You really find out about yourself when you compete."