The room is filled with boxes. Years of trophies and plaques have been removed from the shelves. Frames containing pictures of former athletes and teams are packed alongside those of family, friends and colleagues. A game ball is carefully stored with matted degrees and certifications. Jackson Public School District Executive Director of Athletics Clinton Johnson, Jr. sits at his desk in the nearly empty office, studying completed fall schedules – one of his last acts before his retirement at the end of June after nine years leading the athletic department.
Johnson has seen athletics and administration from many different perspectives. After walking on to the Jackson State baseball team, he spent three years as the Tigers ace pitcher earning All-Conference honors his senior year. He led the Tigers to more than 50 wins. The Farmhaven native then spent the next six years pitching for severalminor league teams. As a head coach, he revived Lanier High’s struggling baseball program to a playoff level competitor and has served as principal of both Utica Elementary and Callaway High.
The Velma Jackson alum has worked to continue the district’s storied history of success. Under his tenure, JPS won more than a dozen championships including a girls powerlifting crown. A renewed focus on the “small sports” produced an increase in the number of sports offered with the addition of swimming and powerlifting. Athletes gained numerous opportunities for exposure on his watch traveling to other states to play. An ESPN televised game earned the Callaway boys basketball team national attention.
Johnson saw five coaches head off to the college ranks. Three of which are leading D1 basketball programs in the state. He hosted the district’s first coaches’ clinic and oversaw several facility upgrades including renovations at the South Jackson Athletic football field, repavement of the track at Hughes Field and remodels of several gymnasiums. He regrets being unable to secure a salary increase or summer pay for coaches and wishes that he had been able to upgrade more of the district’s aging facilities. However, coaches who had the opportunity to work under him praise him for what he always provided – support.
“One of my most memorable moments was playing a big game out of town and seeing him in the stands as we won at the buzzer against a 7A team from Alabama this year in New Orleans,” said Spencer Gatlin, head boys basketball coach at Wingfield High. “He would take the time and tell you good job when you have success, but also encourage you when things weren’t moving like you hoped.”
David Sanders, head boys basketball coach at Callaway High School, has worked under Johnson on both the school and district level. He says his former principal was one of the most vocal advocates when his team was refused the opportunity to play for a high school national championship.
“We were eventually not allowed to go, but Mr. Johnson fought it to the very end and I’ll never forget that,” Sanders said. “He was an AD who always had our backs and was extremely approachable. He (has) a heart for the city and its athletes.”
Daryl Jones was hired to replace Johnson and officially took the reins of the JPS Athletic Department July 1.
Jones, a Provine High School alum is a former head football coach and administrator at Jim Hill High. His success at Jim Hill earned him a position on the staff at JSU. He has also made stops at Canton, Columbus High and Raymond High. Johnson and Jones have also worked together before. Jones served as the head football coach at Callaway where Johnson was principal. The Chargers saw success under Jones leadership making the playoffs three times while earning a Region 2-5A championship.
Jones is currently the athletic director for Hinds County School District where he is responsible for two high school and four middle school programs. During his tenure, the district began an intramural program in its elementary schools offering second through sixth graders the opportunity to play basketball, soccer and track and field in an organized school setting. He also oversaw several facility improvement projects, added athletic staff and new sports programs. Raymond High earned three state championships under his leadership.
Johnson believes Jones will be a great asset to the district.
“When coming into a new position, you see things differently. You have different ideas and different experiences so you may choose a different route and it may even be a better route,” Johnson said. “I feel that he will bring all of that experience and a different perspective to take them to the next level. I’m hoping that he does that and builds on the successes we’ve had.”
Gatlin has known Jones for many years and is excited he is joining the district.
“Coach Jones is one of the most respected coaches in the state,” Gatlin said. “His guidance as a friend and mentor has helped shape me as the coach I am today. He’s as solid as they come and he’s gonna do a great job for us.”
Jones recognizes that as a leader of one of the state’s largest and most competitive sports programs, he faces some challenges. The district currently has seven high schools and twelve middle schools to unify around common athletic goals. Also high on his list of priorities are attracting and hiring high caliber coaches for open positions and developing young and upcoming coaches in the district.
“I think it’s important that as a district we have some common things that we want to get accomplished as coaches and as administrators as well,” said Jones.
Meanwhile Johnson says that moving out of his Enochs’ office does not mean the end of his time with sports. He has partnered with Tim Bennett of Overtime Sports to increase knowledge, interest and participation in baseball in the metro area. He hopes the program will allow him a returned focus to his passion and a continued pursuit to improve the sport in JPS.
As Johnson closes the door on a storied career in education, he says he is beyond grateful for the alumni, parents and coaches who have supported the districts’ extracurricular activities. He is also reflective of the opportunities he has been afforded.
“I thank God for the opportunities I’ve had,” Johnson said. “Anyone who has been in education this long has to love children. This (being the athletic director) was another chance for me to provide opportunities for children.”