2017 All-Greater Savannah Softball Coach of the Year
story by Kelly Harley photos by Shelia Scott
If you had to pick a coach, Johnny Coleman may be your first pick. The Effingham County-native is committed to teaching kids about sports, education and life lessons both on the field and in the classroom.
Johnny is a special education teacher at Effingham County Middle School. He works with students with slight learning disabilities; students who need a little more support and attention. “It’s rewarding. The students I work with, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from anyone else,” says Johnny. “They have learning disabilities and, with a little extra help and time, they can be just as successful.”
Johnny’s passion for teaching grew 20 years ago. He graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, with a degree in middle grades education and later earned a certification in special education. His career has led him to teach physical education, geography and at an alternative school for a few years. This is his second year as a special education teacher at Effingham County Middle School.
The work that Johnny does in the classroom extends beyond the walls of the room. As sincere as his passion for teaching, so is his passion for coaching sports. Currently, Johnny serves as the coach for Effingham County High School’s girls’ fastpitch softball team and as the coach for Effingham County Middle School’s boys’ baseball team.
“It’s always special to see young people put a lot of effort into something and be successful at it,” says Johnny. “Because I grew up here, I know the majority of the kids I coach; I’ve known most of them since they were born.” Johnny also has the privilege of coaching his own children. His daughter plays for the girls’ fastpitch softball team and his son for the boys’ baseball team. “Seeing them and their friends doing well, has been really enjoyable. Being around your kids more, it’s just very special. A lot of coaches don’t have that luxury,” says Johnny.
When asked about his coaching style, Johnny says he doesn’t like to yell or scream at the kids. He takes more of a competitive approach and it’s an approach that doesn’t mean just beating the other team. “We try to have a competitive atmosphere. I want the kids to just be better than they were the day before,” says Johnny. “These kids are going to have to compete for jobs and everything else one day. I try to stay as positive as possible and help them learn and not be scared to mess up.”
Johnny says his favorite part of coaching is seeing the kids put in the effort. He says they put in so much work on top of everything else they have to do, it’s impressive to watch them. “When they win or do something better than they did before, that’s what I enjoy. When they succeed, it means a lot,” says Johnny. “As a coach, I just try to give them the information the best ways that I can to get them better physically and mentally and hope they take it the rest of the way.”
In 2017, his girls’ fast pitch softball team made it to the playoffs. The final eight teams – also known as the Elite 8 – played a tournament in Columbus, Georgia. While the team didn’t win the championship, Johnny says they played really well and that’s what matters. That same year, Johnny was named the 2017 All-Greater Savannah Softball Coach of the Year by the Savannah Morning News. “It was very unexpected. Last year was the first year I had coached the softball team there. We had a good program in place, talented girls and outstanding assistant coaches,” says Johnny.
Since a young age, Johnny has been drawn to sports. He grew up in Meldrim, Georgia, and his first childhood memories were at the Meldrim ballpark. His mom played softball and his grandfather and uncle coached softball teams. Johnny started playing T-ball in kindergarten and football in second grade. He played recreation ball growing up and played baseball and football all four years while he attended Effingham County High School.
“High school football was huge when I was in high school. There was only one high school and the whole county was behind us. It was a great atmosphere then,” says Johnny.
Despite his love of sports, his parents always made sure he kept his grades up. If you didn’t have good grades or got into trouble, you couldn’t play. Johnny says that really helped him realize the importance of having an education and being skilled in sports.
He says his mom always made sure he did the right thing and carried himself the right way, and his dad made sure he was doing everything right on the football field. He says the support of his family was instrumental in his success. He also credits his success to playing under really good coaches. He played for football coach Bob Griffith and baseball coach Jim Simmons; Simmons still coaches in Statesboro. “They really helped me to learn a lot when I was fresh out of college and they had a big influence on me,” says Johnny.
It’s those same ethics Johnny is now passing on to those he coaches. He requires them to keep their grades up, to do the right thing and to work as hard as they can. “I try to be open-minded. The older I get, the more I am open to new things. I research as much as I can,” says Johnny.
He wants his players to know that just because you’ve done something all these years, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to do it a little better.