UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Relationships, not championships  define Johnson’s 52-year career

Marc Johnson experienced every high school coach’s dream Saturday-before-last.

Yes, his Cherry Creek Bruins won the Colorado Class 5A state baseball championship.

Every prep coach, no matter the sport, hopes one day to develop the state’s best team.  

But that’s not the dream I’m talking about.

When Creek beat neighborhood rival Regis Jesuit—not once but twice in the same day—to claim that coveted championship, it’s who was in the stands that mattered more than anything else.

“We had fifty-some players from five decades who showed up,” he said. “It was a really humbling experience. The whole idea of a family really checked out.”

Johnson, 79, was concluding a 52-year run as head baseball coach at Cherry Creek High School. Fifty-two years!

Long ago he had learned what matters most.

“What happened,” he explained, “is, I thought at first, ‘I’m a coach. I’m just trying to make a better baseball player.’ But as time went on, I realized that developing relationships is more important than championships.

“You become a part of their lives, and they become a part of your life. You try to create a baseball family.”

Talk with any high school coach—I talked with dozens covering high school sports for a decade early in my newspaper career—and almost all of them will say something along those lines.

That’s what is so special about high school coaches. They don’t get paid enough to put in all the hours and effort just for the money. 

“I realized that I had made some kind of impact, or Cherry Creek baseball had made some kind of impact, on these boys to want to be here.

“Several flew in from out of state. One of them came in from Los Angeles and said, ‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’ They all knew it was going to be my last games.”

Johnson began coaching at Cherry Creek after coaching at Fort Hood while in the Army. His first Bruins team went 4-14. He had only one losing season in the next 51.

“I taught physical education at Walnut Hills Elementary for six or seven years,” he said, “then a job opened up at the high school, and I moved there. I stayed until 1999, when I retired from teaching.”

He continued at CCHS as coach, only, for another 25 years.

“I thought I was going to teach in high school and that maybe it would work out, that I’d be lucky enough to move up to a college program,” he said.

Instead, he discovered the rewards of working with 14-to-18-year-olds.

Johnson’s teams won state titles in 1983, 1992, five straight from ’95 through ’99, 2012 and this year—nine in all. Six others made the finals but lost. 

That means his teams played for the championship 15 times—28.8% of the time over 52 seasons.

“Because we’ve won some state championships, people think it’s easy,” he said. “It’s not. It’s extremely difficult.

“Everything has to fall just right. You have to keep away from injuries. You’ve got to have guys be eligible. You’ve got to have guys committed to each other.

“You’ve got to keep people happy who aren’t starters but who still want to be a part of what you’re trying to do. And there’s lots of dealing with parents. So many things become a part of this.”

Johnson has spoken with many of his fellow coaches over the years and knows that most—all the good ones who are in it for the long haul—share his feelings.

“Anybody who been into it for a length of time starts to look at it that way,” he says.

“It’s fun to take a group and try to get them to bond and work as a team, rather than just doing it by yourself. We all have to know there’s something bigger than ourselves.”

The proof in that was on display at All-Star Park in Lakewood when all of those former players watched the 2024 Creek team beat Regis 11-1 and 5-2.

“When kids come back,” Johnson reflects, “they never talk about championships. They talk about relationships—with coaches and with other players on the team. About how much fun it was . . .

“I think that’s what really made me stay.”

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 16 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at denny
dressman@comcast.net.