SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Behind every swing, and every Shakopee run is the same coach who was there when it all started.
“In this community, he is definitely a legend,” assistant coach Ashley Walker said.
For 42 years and counting, Neil Johnson has been the Sabers coach, the only coach in Shakopee history, and also the longest active softball coach in the state.
“In that first year I started, I had 25 girls,” Johnson said. “We had two teams, and I was the only coach. I was running back and forth up on the top of the hill between the two fields.”
Four decades later, those fields are named after him.
“Some of my close, personal friends indicated that they don’t name things for live people: they name things for people that have passed on,” Johnson said. “They’re not my close, personal friends anymore. That’s a joke!”
All jokes aside, last week’s field dedication in honor of coach Johnson was a moment he’ll never forget.
“It was very emotional to see my family there and to see everybody there,” Johnson said. “It was pretty neat.”
But if you ask Johnson’s players, there is no coach more deserving.
“He brings his family morals to the field and treats all of his players like they are his kids,” senior Megan Schmidt said
“I’ve known Johnson since I was maybe like eight years old,” Walker said. “Being able to grow up with him and have him be like a second father, then to be able to coach under him and learn under him, has just been amazing.”
That’s right Johnson has former players that are now assistant coaches, and parents of current players that played for him as well.
“I haven’t got any third generation to my knowledge yet,” Johnson said.
But with no signs of slowing down, the next generation of Shakopee softball players is still in good hands.
“The smile on a face when someone learns how to throw a drop ball or the smile on a face when a play works out on the field: that satisfaction is hard to describe,” Johnson said.