Houghton Lake – Roy Johnston sat on the Beaverton High bench Friday evening, watching the freshmen boys basketball game against host Houghton Lake like a 74-year-old grandfather would.
Johnston is the longtime Beaverton head varsity basketball coach and was keeping close tabs on his future players prior to the varsity game later that night.
Johnston, wearing his trademark red sports jacket, worked the sidelines in his own animated style, guiding Beaverton’s varsity – 10-1 and 8-0 in the Jack Pine Conference – to a 47-24 comeback victory for win No. 728 to match the state record held by the late Lofton Greene (728), who won 12 state championships in 40 years at River Rouge.
How animated is Johnston? Well, if old-time college basketball fans can remember former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell during the 1970s and 1980s, they’ll get the picture.
Johnston has coached his son and his grandsons, including point guard Spencer Johnston, who helped Beaverton reach the state semifinals two years ago with a No. 2 ranking in Class C, and now 6-foot-3 senior guard Carter Johnston, who rallied the Beavers back from a 15-13 halftime deficit against Houghton Lake, making 3-pointers, scoring in transition and taking charges during a 19-0 run to start the second half to open up a 32-15 cushion.
“The way everybody is figuring it out, if we win tonight we’ll tie and if we win Wednesday I go ahead of Lofton,” Johnston said while taking a break from his work at halftime of the freshmen game. “As long as you’re in it, you grow with them and adjust. I think kids are good today. They just go through the same growing-up things we all went through in high school. Except, the difference today is you just hope you keep them away from drugs. When I was going to school I didn’t even know there was drugs.
Johnston still has the same love for the game of basketball, though he admits, “just not the same energy that I had.”
Johnston says he’s honored to get the opportunity to pass Greene and become the state’s all-time winningest coach. He’ll get that chance on Wednesday night when Beaverton plays host to Farwell.
“It would mean a lot since Lofton was such a good man and had a tremendous amount of success,” said Johnston.
In addition to his 46 years as head coach of Beaverton, Johnston also had brief stints at Yale (1967-68) and Howell (1969-70). He taught fifth grade for 29 years in the Beaverton school system, then was assistant principal for nine years in the same building before retiring earlier this decade.
“We like to play man-to-man, play hard-nosed defense and get the ball to people to where they can score,” said Johnston of his coaching philosophy. “Really, it depends on our personnel. This team doesn’t run well, but my grandson (Spencer) that I had before this one, that’s all he loved to do. We won 22 of 23 games that year (2014-15) and lost in the regional final.”
Johnston has enjoyed multiple unbeaten regular seasons while at Beaverton. His 1984 team advanced to the Class C state semifinals with his son, Jeff, playing. Jeff is now an insurance agent in Beaverton.
Beaverton’s 2000 and ’01 teams reached the Class B state quarterfinals.
“The great thing about being around for so long is keeping in touch with all my graduates, seeing how they’re doing and hearing about their families,” said Johnston, added he feels fortunate to have his five children and numerous grandchildren living nearby.
Powers North Central sets state record
Two-time defending Class D state champion Powers North Central set the state record for consecutive wins at 66 Friday night with its one-sided 76-29 rout of Bark River-Harris.
Powers North Central sits atop the Associated Press rankings in Class D with an 11-0 record.
The former record was held by Chassell from 1956-1958.