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Teachers encouraged to make dreams come true

Coach Jim Johnson with Superintendent Ted Watson and Mayor Earl Johnson at Monday night’s public event.

Coach Jim Johnson with Superintendent Ted Watson and Mayor Earl Johnson at Monday night’s public event.

Johnson shares his 6-point plan for success

A high school basketball coach who gained national acclaim by making an autistic student’s dreams come true helped kickstart the school year here yesterday.

Coach Jim Johnson of Greece Athena High School in New York state addressed an assembly of teachers from the Andalusia, Opp and Covington County school systems Monday morning, and a cross-section of the community Monday night.

Johnson recounted the night he put in Jason McElwain, his team’s manager, on senior night. “J-Mac,” as he was called by his coaches and teammates, scored 20 points in the last four minutes of the game.

“This young man had a big dream,” Johnson said. “He wanted to play in a varsity basketball game. On Feb. 15, 2006, his dream came true.”

Even now, the memories bring tears to the coach’s eyes. There was something special I the air that night, he said. Word had spread that J-Mac would get to play, and a parent had printed signs of J-Mac’s face.

The home team was up by 20 when J-Mac went in, Johnson said.

“They all stood up and put the pictures up,” he said. “I sat down and started to cry.”

J-Mac missed his first two shots.

“But when he got shooting, he was hot as a pistol,” Johnson recalled. “He was shooting three-pointers like they were free-throws. He was unstoppable for that moment in time.”

Johnson said, “It felt like I was living the movie ‘Rudy.’ ”

It had been a tough season, with some of his lowest coaching lows, Johnson said. But late in the season, the players came together as a team. J-Mac’s performance seamed to seal the deal.

His obstacle as a coach was that he couldn’t get a team past the sectional finals. Six times, he had been and lost, the last one at the buzzer to a cross-time rival.

But this year – J’Mac’s year, his team won.

Footage of the game went viral. First, local television stations picked it up, then the CBS Evening News. Later, CNN, Good Morning America, ESPN, even Oprah came calling. EPSN did a five-minute piece on J-Mac.

Soon after the season, President George W. Bush was due to visit Rochester. Johnson, J-Mac and his parents were invited.

The coach said he was pumped at the opportunity to meet the president on the tarmac. But Bush went straight to J-Mac and began talking to him about basketball.

Then the president said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Is it OK, if I call you J-Mac?”

To which the young man replied. “Sure. Is it OK if I call you George W.?”

These days, Johnson still coaches high school basketball, and J-Mac is on his staff. Johnson also has published a book and talks to groups about his six steps for making dreams come true.

“Have passion,” he said. “Consider ‘What do I love to do and how can I make it a big part of my life?’ ”

Johnson’s goal was to be an NBA player. When he was cut from his college team, he decided instead to become a teacher and coach.

“I’ve been at it for 30 years, and I’m blessed to still do it. As educators, we have a great opportunity to make an impact on youth.”

“The second essential key is to discover your mission,” he said. Then, he said, write your own mission statement.

“If you know your mission, you’re going to make better choices, and good things are gonna happen.

Third was to become an effective goal setter.

“When you think it, ink it. My research has shown, if you write your goals down, you are 10 times more likely to make them come true.”

Then, he said, you’ve got to have discipline to reach your goals.

“We will all suffer one of two pains,” he said. “The pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Regret weighs tons.”

Successful people must have perseverance, he said.

“Here, J-Mac was man who never got into a game, but he came to practice early, and he stayed late, just for the opportunity.

“The second part of that is a positive attitude. Can you control your work ethic? Can you control your attitude,” he asked. “Yes. But attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?”

Finally, he said, be a team player.

“You can’t be successful if can’t work with others,” he said.

The best way to make your dreams come true, he said, is to make others’ dreams come true.