Jerry Johnson received numerous coaching accolades during his time leading Wamego High’s baseball program. After recently retiring from the post in July, he said the accomplishment that brings him the greatest sense of gratification can’t be measured in wins and losses.
“I’m not without flaws, and I’m not without mistakes,” Johnson said. “But I’d like to say that after 23 years of coaching baseball that we grew the boys up and turned them into productive citizens. Honestly, the thing I’m the most proud of is that I still know a lot of the kids who are now men. Some of the them have kids, and it’s really cool to see them walk down the streets of Wamego. You know, ‘Hey, Coach Johnson, here’s my two boys.’”
Under Johnson, Wamego won 290 games, including a state championship in 2000, nine league titles and six state tournament appearances. He also coached former Texas Rangers third baseman Travis Metcalf.
“There isn’t another coach in our league who has won a state title yet,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they’ve coached any major leaguers yet, and I know none of them have coached in Kauffman Stadium. I just feel lucky to have done a lot of the things I got to do, and it’s all thanks to the kids in Wamego.”
Johnson said he still isn’t sure if he’ll continue to go to high school baseball games as a spectator. While he cares for the kids, he said is “afraid” he might miss coaching too much sitting in the stands.
Not only is Johnson the longest-tenured coach in Wamego’s baseball program’s history, he also is credited as one of the people who started it back in 1997.
Johnson, Bob Langston — who had two kids who wanted to play softball and baseball — and other parents were the ones who initially took the idea to Wamego’s athletics director at the time, Susan Scherling.
“(Scherling) ended up taking the idea to the school board,” Johnson said. “A lot of parents were involved. I remember one of the board meetings — they used to have them in the middle school library — but there were so many people excited about maybe having baseball that they had to move it to the commons area and pull all of the bleachers out.”
Johnson also played a role in bringing a new baseball complex to Wamego. He campaigned for a one-cent tax raise increase in Pottawatomie County that ended up funding the $4 million project.
“We went door to door,” Johnson said. “We actually hit every house in Wamego, I’m pretty sure. We were actually charting which houses we hadn’t hit, and we went out three or four nights and just beat the streets and talked to people about (the project).”
Johnson also has served as the Wamego Middle School head football coach for the last 27 years. Thinking back on it, he said he would miss coaching football “a lot,” too.
He recalled a humorous story from several years ago when the team’s kicker asked Johnson to do an unexpected favor for him in the middle of a game against Anthony Middle School.
“After the last (extra point), he comes off the field, comes over to me and goes, ‘I got to go to the bathroom,’” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Well, the game’s not over yet.’ He goes, ‘Well, I got to run over here, hold my money,’ and he handed me a handful of nickels, dimes, and quarters. I’m like, ‘Where has that been?’ He had been holding them while he was kicking.”
Johnson’s story emphasized what he said was going to be the toughest part about retiring from coaching: not getting to spend as much time around the players.
“Junior high kids just do funny, funny stuff,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m going to cry sometimes thinking about it. Kids at that age do the weirdest things.”
Johnson listed spending time with his grandkids, golfing and woodworking as the activities he plans to do with the extra time he now has on his hands.
“All that stuff is way less stressful than coaching by the way,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Although Johnson’s coaching career is over, he still will teach at Wamego Middle School. Johnson said that he plans on living in Wamego for the rest of his life.
He couldn’t see himself anywhere else.
“Honestly, the people in Wamego are great.” Johnson said. “99% of the parents are great. 99.9% of the kids are great. I don’t know that a person could ask for a better place to raise their kids or live their life.”