By MARK MAYNARD
Mike Johnson is the perfect choice for the Distinguished Tomcat Award that will be presented Friday night before Ashland plays Lewis County in the opening game of the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
Few embody the Tomcat spirit more than Johnson, whose legacy with Ashland sports stretches back 50 years.
He always considered it to a privilege and honor to wear Ashland’s maroon and white, starting with being on the 1963 and 1964 Ashland American Little League state championship All-Star teams.
As a young Africa-American boy living in Ashland, he learned of the ugliness of prejudice while traveling with the Little League teams. But he also learned about the importance of teammates who wanted to play with him no matter his color.
Johnson was a starter as a junior on Ashland’s 1967 state football championship team as a cornerback on a rugged, hard-hitting defense that rattled opponents.
He was also a senior catcher on Ashland’s 1969 state runner-up baseball team that lost 1-0 to Owensboro in the finals.
But it didn’t stop there. His three children — Mike, Charlie and Angie — were stars in the Tomcat/Kitten family, too.
Mike and son Charlie, the wrecking ball of a fullback on Ashland’s powerful 1990 state championship football team, hold the rare distinction of father-son state titles with the Tomcats. The only other one that immediately comes to mind is Ellis Johnson (1928 basketball) and Kenn Johnson (1961 basketball) to hold that record.
Mike’s oldest son was at one time Ashland’s all-time rushing king and one of the best running backs in school history. He ran for more than 3,000 yards in a brilliant career.
Angie Johnson starred for the Kittens, playing on some great Ashland teams in the late 1980s, then going on to a college career at the University of Louisville. She parlayed that into more success on the court as an assistant coach at several women’s programs including Florida State and Georgia.
So sports and the Johnson family rank high in the annals of Tomcat history.
But when it comes to the pride that comes along with playing at Ashland, few anywhere have more than Mike Johnson. He coached youth league baseball for at least a decade and always shared his passion for the Tomcats with those players, too.
Mike was a competitor who played to win and he was a coach who coached to win. Anybody who played with or coached with Mike Johnson and his coaching buddy Jim Johnson listened to what they had to say.
I had the privilege of coaching with Mike on some Babe Ruth All-Star teams and have never come across anyone more fair or anyone who wanted to win more than he did. Even more importantly was how Mike respected and liked every player on the team, regardless of their standing in the starting lineup. Everyone was treated equally and given equal opportunities. The best players played. End of story.
He would tell the players about what it felt like when the firetrucks led you into town after winning a state championship because he knows, first hand, what that feels like.
Not many can say that.
He made them understand the importance, not to mention the responsibility, of holding Ashland’s sports banner high.
His loyalty to all things Tomcats has been there since the first time he put on a uniform.
Giving Mike Johnson the honor of being a Distinguished Tomcat seems only natural. Few have given back like he did.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.