March 9, 2006
Tifton-- The high school basketball season will bounce to an end soon, but before it's over, we thought you'd like to know about a special coach who plays on two courts.
Johnny Spurlin enjoys working with young people. "Young people make mistakes. They are not perfect. They need to know that you are there to help them," says Johnny.
He's there to help them at seven o'clock in the mornings during the Fall Semester at Tift County High School where 10th graders and some 12th graders, who need the class to graduate, learn Algebra II. "I approach math as a science and not tricks," says Johnny, who points out the many exceptions to the rules of English.
"I teach concepts instead of manipulating numbers," says Johnny. Besides a math teacher, he is head coach of the boy's basketball team. "That's what interests me so much about basketball is the amount of strategy involved that you can dictate how you want to play sometimes," says Johnny.
The right game strategy can help a team overcome an inherent weakness, improving their odds of winning. Johnny comes from a coaching family. His father coached community athletic teams for years. His uncle won national recognition as a coach, and many of his past coaches made lasting, positive impressions on him. He learned from them all.
Johnny played basketball and other sports, whatever was in season at the time when he was much younger. After attending college, he donated his time as an assistant coach with the Tift County Blue Devils, who won a state championship in 1996. "I was around some minds that made me try to question why we do certain things in sports," says Johnny.
He would earn a college math degree and became a certified teacher, but the desire to coach pulled at his heart strongly enough that he volunteered as a high school coach for several years before attending law school. When completing his training, he started his successful legal practice and continued his community basketball coaching.
Two years ago, he was asked to assume the head coaching position that allowed him to continue his law practice. It sounds odd for a practicing attorney to coach a high school team, but Johnny sees similarities.
He doesn't know of anyone else who does both. "I think the way I coach and the way I practice law are very similar," says Johnny who has been known to spend hours watching videotape of games at home to find an opposing team's strengths and weaknesses. "To maximize the strengths of my team or my case and how to minimize the weaknesses of my team or my case," says Johnny.
The balancing of two professions doesn't cause as many conflicts as someone might expect. "My (law) practice has been such that it's flexible enough that I can work around basketball," says Johnny, who schedules depositions after basketball practice, for example.
He avoids real estate work because closings could interfere. Some players believe his legal background helps when coaching them. "He can tell when you are lying, saying things you didn't really mean," says A. J. Brown.
Johnny disagrees with A. J. saying he doesn't use his legal training, but remembers the temptations when he was their age and played high school basketball. In 10 years of coaching, Johnny saw many players come and go, but he has never represented any of them in a criminal or domestic matter.
The future of his dual professions causes him to pause. Teaching an algebra class at seven in the morning, and answering recruiters' questions about his players take more time that he realized compared to when he was a community coach.
To coach, Johnny must be a certified teacher and teach a class, but he has a nine year-old daughter that he would like to spend more time with. So, he doesn't know how long he will continue to balance such time consuming demands.
In the end, Johnny wants one thing for his players: To be good kids and grow-up to be good people. He'd also like one of his players to reach the NBA.