OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Johnson knows all aspects of the Shadyside Relays

SHADYSIDE — The Shadyside Relays isn’t simply a track meet, it’s a tradition.

The event, of which the 48th annual steps off next Saturday in Tiger Town, is, in many ways, a generational torch, continually lit by a Who’s Who of the local community.

No one knows this better than Jayson Johnson.

Johnson and his family have been involved in the April staple since almost its inception.

“I remember what an event it was when I was a kid,” he said. “You got up there (in the stands) and there were hundreds of people and 800-900 athletes from across the State of Ohio. The whole town was kind of captivated by it.”

Johnson’s grandfather, Jack Bonar, was heavily involved in it years ago, and got Johnson hooked.

From participating to coaching, the 1999 Shadyside High School graduate soon learned that working on the administrative side of the event is just as addictive and fun as participating.

And, like any big event like a track meet, it takes a dedicated team of volunteers to make it tick.

While work commitments have made coaching undoable for Johnson currently, it does favor him as far as family and working on the Relay Committee are concerned.

“Growing up, I always envisioned being a teacher and a coach,” he said. ‘But, the world happens and life happens.”

As it happens, Johnson’s sister, Jenna Coyne, is the Tigers track coach, while his wife, Brianne, is a coach, too.

“I kind of get to live vicariously through my sister and my wife and get to spend some time around the kids that way,” Johnson, a father of four with one on the way, said. “That’s really what I want to do anyway, help kids learn and help them succeed and develop skills, not only in athletics, but later in life.”

Johnson, did coach for a time at his alma mater, Wheeling Jesuit, and as a registered official, helps with Shadyside’s OVTL and junior high meets, but recently, he’s he’s been helping the community gear up for the Relays as the chairperson of the event.

“I swapped places with Jerry Narcisi about three years ago,” he explained. “He worked really hard to get some of the younger folks to follow some of the experienced folks around.”

Narcisi served as a mentor, of sorts, to Johnson, showing up all of the ins and outs of how the Relays come together.

“(Jerry) is still heavily involved,” Johnson pointed out. “He’s the foundation of the whole thing. And, like anything else, when you build something with a great foundation, it’s easy to keep things going. It’s people like him that keep things moving.”

Johnson, who was a state runnerup in the 400 meter dash at 49.49 as a prep athlete, began on the Relay Committee by working with equipment and facilities. Soon, he, along with other younger folks on the committee, worked their ways up into positions of more responsibility.

“Honestly, until you get involved in the planning of it, you don’t realize all what goes into it,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of the work. I kind of oversee it and organize it. I’m kind of a checkbox guy to make sure things are done.”

On event day, Johnson said he hardly sees any of the action.

“I do a lot of the grunt work if it needs done,” he said. “I’m grateful to the people that do the work.”

Johnson is quick to acknowledge it’s a team effort.

“It’s great. I love it. But the people, the other folks that are involved, and the amount of time and effort they’re willing to put in to make sure that this thing goes off without a hitch is great.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1

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