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“Legendary” Cleveland HS Coach Calvin Johnson Dies

January 21, 2010

Editor’s note: This article is in progress and will be updated as interviews and comments come in.  If you have a comment you would like included in the article, please send it, with your name, to

Calvin Johnson, who coached the Cleveland Eagles for 30 seasons, died this past weekend at the age of 60.

According to Seattle Schools:

“Mr. Johnson began his teaching career with Seattle Public Schools in 1972 as P.E. teacher at Dunlap Elementary. He moved to Cleveland High School as P.E. teacher in 1976 and retired in 2009.

His coaching record was legendary, coaching the Eagles to eight basketball state-tournament appearances in 30 years, including a second-place finish in 1979. He retired as boys’ basketball coach after the 2007-08 school year.”

Former Student Shermaine Singleton was shocked and saddened to learn of Johnson’s death.  “[He was] a great man of character, wisdom, truth, love and respect.  He…believed in pursuing higher education.  He spent so much time explaining to me the valuable lessons of life.  He never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.  For this alone, I am truly grateful and will never, ever forget him.”

Michael Torrey, who attended both Dunlap and Cleveland, graduated in 1986.  The love for his former coach, mentor and father figure (to thousands of alumni) is evident; he speaks with passion and commitment to his alma matter.

“Who was the man behind the whistle? That’s the question Seattle needs to find out,” he says matter-of-factly. “There’s more to the man, than what people know.

“He was the assistant football coach for a time, and the head basketball coach for 30 years; He was a PE teacher to all of us, a mentor to most of us, and a father figure for the rest of us.  He pulled us aside and reminded us the importance of, not just being a good athlete, but also as growing young men to make good decisions, smart decisions- and to get that education, he was a stickler about education.

“It didn’t matter how good [of an athlete] you were, if you didn’t have your grades where they needed to be, you need to go see him.  That mean you might not be suiting up [to play].  He was definitely an advocate for education.

“A lot of the students went back to Cleveland, just to say hi, to see how he was doing, to update him on how they were progressing in life.  He never forgot a student, he never forgot a face, and he always welcomed you with open arms- that hand automatically came out to shake yours.”

Michael reconnected with Coach Johnson in 2007 when Cleveland was under renovations.  While the school was temporarily relocated to West Seattle, someone broke in and stole the basketball uniforms.

“He was really disappointed,” Torrey recalls, “he figured it was a student that did it.”

The uniforms were never recovered, but Torrey and others quickly gave cash donations to replace them. “That was my way of giving back to someone who poured out his heart and soul for all of us.”

Coach Johnson was known for going above and beyond for his students, using his own money to cover the cost of shoes, school supplies, or pay for lunch for students in need.

“He realized, ‘If I don’t reach and out and let this kid know that somebody cares, they may fall through the cracks- and he’s touched more than 20 thousand lives- easily…easily.”

Torrey is working to get the word out to Cleveland alumni about Coach Johnson’s passing.  “Whether or not he coached you, that man had a lasting effect on the students that crossed the doorway of Cleveland High School.”

He wants former students to attend the funeral, scheduled for Saturday January 30th.  Not just to pay last respects, but also to honor Coach Johnson’s wife and children.

“Coaching is not just the 1 person, the whole family is involved. He sacrificed quality time in a marriage and family to coach us.  We had games late at night, games out of town, it took a lot of time. It’s time for us to say ‘thank you’ to her. Thank you for sharing your husband, your loved one, with all of us over the years.  We owe her that.”

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 30 at 10:00 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 820 18th Ave., Seattle 98122.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Vivian Trujillo permalink
    January 22, 2010 12:51 pm

    Johnson was a man of intergrity. He showed many people that daily and encouraged that in all. His wife and family generously allowed him to coach,teach and take time away from them for him to support all that he came in contact with. He was a person of much importance through the last fifteen years for me and my son. His boys and wife are as important to his memory for they too all offer the same wisdom, character and enthusiam for people they meet. May god bless them with guideness throught these tough times. He will be missed and remembered always..

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