Galen Johnson celebrated his 80th birthday with a party on Oct. 4 at the gymnasium where so many of his girls’ basketball teams scored wins - Porter School.
As friends and family filed in to congratulate the former coach and principal, he greeted each with a smile and many with a hug. And more often than not, a story about their exploits.
Daughter Gaye Hasty said she is amazed at how her father remembers so many people. “Just to think of the positive impact he’s had and the success these people have realized because of the influence he had. Many chose a different path because of his influence.”
Johnson said his wife and daughters had been planning his 80th birthday party for several months. “I had reservations to begin with, but they have been planning this since last spring,” he said.
Basketball is never far from discussion when Johnson is reminiscing. He has four daughters. Three, he said, played in a state tournament and two daughters were All-State.
Johnson coached at a school in Missouri three years, then at Porter School. He coached at Porter for 24 years before leaving to serve as principal at the new William Blount High School for 11 years.
A framed photo on a table with all his accolades from years past showed him sitting in the bleachers at Porter School surrounded by trophies. He was humble in his assessment of his success with the different students he coached. “I happened to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.
Johnson said when he coached and served as principal at Porter, there was a 280 average enrollment at the school. His teams went up against much larger schools and won since there were no classifications as TSSAA has now.
“All three of our state championships and two second places and two third places were before classification. We were very fortunate, and we worked hard,” he said.
Johnson also ran the first basketball camps in the state on a high school level, and he had basketball camps from Oklahoma City to Myrtle Beach. “I worked with over 50,000 kids in a 38 year period,” he said.
Mark Hasty, Johnson’s son-in-law and a Blount County commissioner, said the former coach continues to be an example to many in how he reaches out to different people and how he influences lives. “They know him because he had an influence on their lives,” Hasty said.
Hasty said so many of the individuals his father-in-law taught or coached went on to positions in government, business or became teachers in the school system. “It’s amazing the lives one person has reached. As far as our family, he’s helped all of us,” Hasty said.
Hasty said Johnson sets a high bar for others to follow. “It makes us what we are,” he said. “The influence came from him, by setting the bar. He’s part of each one of our lives. Because of his success, it works in our lives.”
Daughter Stephanie Thompson, director of Maryville City Schools, talked about the many years her father worked at Porter and William Blount high schools. “Think about the number of people he’s had an influence on all these years,” she said. “It’s amazing what an effect an educator has.”
Thompson said her father was always aware he was an example to others. “You have to be a good example,” she said.
Daughter Donna Brewington, a nurse living in Greenville, S.C., said she couldn’t think of anybody who set a better example. “He taught drive, determination, integrity and enthusiasm that has impacted everybody’s lives,” she said.
Daughter Dawn Reagan, a teacher at Carpenters Middle School, said her father was the biggest influence on her life and the reason she is an educator today.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in Blount County,” Reagan said. “They know my dad as a principal or coach,” she said.
Reagan said she has often heard parents tell her they wished her father was principal at their child’s school now because he was strict with students. “We didn’t like it when we were in high school, but we like it now that we have kids,” she said.