When Mark Johnson moved to Morris and began attending Morris Community High School as a sophomore, he quickly became active in sports, joining the football and basketball teams.
A lack of playing time in basketball caused Johnson to decide not to play what he calls his best sport, baseball, that spring. In some ways, he regrets that decision today, but in others, he thinks the experience is beneficial to him now as a coach.
“If I could go back in time, I would change that,” Johnson said of his decision not to play baseball that year, “but going through that, and the disappointment of not playing (in basketball), has made me appreciate all of my players equally. I’m not a coach who is going to focus on his studs all the time.”
Johnson plans to bring such an approach to his new position as head varsity baseball coach at Oswego High School. The Panthers went 7-24 last season under Chris Nietzel, who recently resigned.
Their new coach is no stranger to the program, or to coaching prep baseball. Fresh out of college, Johnson got his first job at Minooka in 1996 on the staff of Dan Goggins. Johnson helped current Minooka Athletic Director Bob Tyrell coach the freshman baseball team.
After one year at Minooka, Johnson took a teaching job at Joliet Catholic Academy, where he coached freshman baseball for four years and sophomore baseball for another two. He moved on to Oswego in time for the 2004-05 school year.
At Oswego, he initially was an assistant varsity baseball coach, but he moved down to the sophomore level two years later and remained there until his recent promotion.
Under Johnson, the Oswego sophomore team went 23-12 in 2012 and 27-8 in 2013. Many of the players that comprised those teams will be juniors and seniors on the 2014 Oswego varsity.
“There are good teams in this conference (the Southwest Prairie) — Plainfield South, Plainfield North, Minooka,” Johnson said.
“We have to compete with those teams first and then go from there. But I see no reason we can’t win 20 games. We’re shooting for 20 wins. I feel you should always shoot high.”
Johnson, who is also the assistant athletic director at Oswego, says he wants to help the school cultivate passionate fan support in a sport other than football.
“One of the big things that I took out of my experience is Morris is the passion the town has for their programs,” Johnson said.
“They support their coaches, the parents get involved, and it’s a huge advantage. Not a lot of schools have that.”
Changes have already started in the program under Johnson. He has the team playing in the summer state tournament again after it had not entered the event during the past few years. Johnson is also bringing a high school baseball camp to OHS for the first time.