◆ Currently still coaches on the football and track staffs.
When Ballard Johnson started his coaching journey he did not have his sights set on being selected into the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame or anything similar. He started with humble opinions such as being grateful for the opportunity and morals such as creating relationships with his players. Those early philosophies served him well.
“My exact thoughts were when you start in a coaching situation, you’re just hoping you can make a difference with the people that you work with and who knows how many years can clip by while you’re doing that,” he stated.
After a standout prep career himself and a stint at Ricks College where he was also a standout athlete, Johnson got his first coaching job. Thankfully for everyone involved it was here in the valley.
“Back after graduation from college I was fortunate to be hired here in the district,” he stated. “That next year Van Hokanson hired me as the defensive back coach as part of his staff. 40 years later I’m the defensive backs coach so I’ve come a long way baby.”
Jokes aside, Johnson has held many positions in football, including a stint as head coach, arguably the most successful stint in Star Valley history as the defensive coordinator and just about everything else.
In track & field, he has been a staple that has literally seen every record on the record board as either a student or a coach. He has truly had a Hall of Fame career but he keeps his perspective now very much as a contributor and getting to see former players and athletes return and pick up their relationship with him.
“That’s the fun part of what I’m doing now,” he replied. “This is their time. For me to be able to sit in the background and put in my two bits in a mentoring situation; I hope that’s valuable. I keep telling Coach McKay [Young] if he finds me ineffective then send me down the road. I’ve loved all the assignments that I’ve had.”
So humble is Johnson that he actually thought his induction into the WCA HOF could go unnoticed.
“In Casper when we were there as a family to receive this award, I thought it could fly under the radar and when we got back to the hotel room my son Tanner said we’ve got this many hits on Twitter and Instagram because Coach Young has already sent it out. To have so many people reach out and congratulate me; that has been a rewarding experience. I’m 66 years old now so I’m working on a double generation gap and having these relationships with our young people is amazing.”
Johnson has been there for the evolution of the sports he coaches. Football has gotten more pass-happy at the prep level, the methods of clearing the bar or setting a mark in track has certainly changed in his time as well. But fundamentals of the sport continue to be the bedrock of success.
“I think we’ve done a lot of changing in the safety aspect of football which is a needed change,” he said. “To keep our kids healthy and productive in their life and not have to carry things after the sport. Those things have had more attention and rightfully so. For the fundamentals of the game, we’ve had a lot of our alumni come up and talk about that and you can still be tenacious and hard-hitting while playing in a safer way.”
It’s been said that the best ability is availability. Johnson has consistently been there even when physical health has been painful and emotional heartache has been in the forefront but Coach Johnson keeps showing up.
“I know that riding those big yellow submarines is part of the gig,” he laughed. “They aren’t any more comfortable than they were when I first started. Someone asked me how many kids do you think you’ve coached and I said I didn’t know but it’s not equal to the miles that we’ve ridden on the big yellow buses.”
Johnson spent this past week doing what he does best. Coaching young players and trying to get them ready for the upcoming season as part of a week-long football camp.
“What a great week we’ve had,” he responded. “In one of the parent letters Coach Young called this the most important week of our season. When you’re talking playoffs and hopeful championships and opportunities like that, That’s a big statement. So much of what we’re trying to do is get our young men to bond into a team. Love, trust and commitment is our mantra. Some of our alumni have come by to speak on it so it sets a good tone for what comes on Au- gust 15.”
After seeing dozens of teams come and go, I asked Coach Johnson what stood out about this upcoming group.
“We are so excited about this year,” he stated. “We are not going to be the most experienced team but our enthusiasm and commitment in the weight room has been strong and we feel like we can make a good run for the post-season. These kids will face a tough schedule. Iron sharpens iron and when we are exposed we can be- come stronger and they will learn on the run. It will be a great season for us.”
Lastly Johnson thanked the area for the opportunity.
“I want to send out how we in coaching appreciate the valley and recognize that coaching here is a great opportunity here and the parent support that we have is great,” he concluded. “It is a great reflection on the positive vibes of Star Valley and that just ads to the mix of what makes this a great place to be.”