Galen Johnson’s lessons went beyond the court

June 3rd, 2015

Carolyn Garner Buchanan said playing basketball for Blount County’s revered Porter High School and coach Galen Johnson Jr. in the early 1960s was a life-altering experience.

“All through life, I’ve known that I can do ‘this’ because of what I was taught in basketball,” said Buchanan, a member of Porter’s 1963 state championship team.

“Coach Johnson taught us so many things through basketball. Next to my dad, he was the most influential man in my life. I could talk all day about him. He was a good man, a Christian man. It brings tears to my eyes that he’s gone.”

Johnson, who led Porter to state championships in 1959, 1963 and 1967, is among the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame’s 2015 class that will be inducted during Saturday’s banquet at the Nashville Omni Hotel.

Johnson, who died in 2012, compiled a 735-167 (.813) record at Porter from 1957 to 1979.

Despite having only about 300 students at the school, the Porter girls played in 18 state tournaments before TSSAA schools were classified by size.

The Pantherettes also

Galen Johnson Jr. sits with all the trophies his teams won at Porter high School at the end of his coaching career.

were state runners-up in 1969 and 1978 and had third-place showings in 1964 and 1971.

Buchanan, a member of Porter’s class of 1964, said those lofty accomplishments were made possible by Johnson’s leadership.

She said he was tough, but fair, on and off the court with his players.

“You had to sacrifice to play for him, but it was worth it,” Buchanan said. “He had a list of rules that he set at the first of the season. Everything from what kind of food we needed toeat, what kind of clothes we needed to wear in the winter to what times we needed to be in bed. He even got our grade cards before we did.”

Lisa Myers, who played on Porter’s final team (197879) before the school closed and was consolidated, said Johnson was years ahead of his time.

“He started doing basketball camps when nobody was doing it, and would bring in the boys team to practice against us,” said Myers.

Morethananything,Myers said that Johnson made girls basketball cool.

“We had a huge following of fans. They would allcome out at 5 o’clock, they brought dinner and then they went home. They didn’t stay to watch the boys game.”

Buchanan and Myers were among the many Pantherettes who turned out in force for the service when Johnson died at age 83.

Buchanan said it was one last chance to pay tribute to their coach.

“He was in the hospital the day before he passed away,” recalled Buchanan. “He was so sweet. He was always upbeat, always positive and he never thought his days were near. He was living.”

Myers, who was a pallbearer at the funeral, saidit was tough to say goodbye to her old coach.

“He was a mentor, he molded you and he was everything to us,” Myers said. “I tell people today that you don’t know what it is to play for somebody like that. I don’t think that time and period will ever happen again. I played for such a great man.”

Then, the former players paid one final tribute to their coach.

“We signed a leather basketball with our number on it, put it in the coffin with him and told him bye,” Myers said. “I felt like I had lost my dad.”

Buchanan said that the number of people and former players who turned out for Johnson’s funeral service was a testament to the number of lives he touched.

“It wasn’t at a small church, and the line was all the way out in the parking lot and around the sanctuary,” said Buchanan.

She said all of the memories of playing for Johnson and the expectations that came with being a Pantherette and wearing the gold and blue came flooding back.

“We were the champs … we were always the champs,” Buchanan said.

Courtesy of: Mike Blackerby

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