BLOUNTVILLE — A high, hearty laugh fills the weight room at Tri-Cities Christian School as Adam Johnston walks in clinching a folded-up piece of paper in his right hand.
He’s been an assistant boys basketball coach the last four years and it’s a job he takes very seriously.
“I watch a lot of coaches on TV and see what they say to their teams,” Johnston said.
Keeping note of other coaching styles helps Johnston form his pregame pep talks for the Golden Eagles, which is why he’s carrying a piece of paper.
“He prepares speeches, writes it out and everything, and knows exactly what he wants to say,” said Michael Freeman, a senior basketball player at the school.
Head coach Jeremy Yates and assistant coach Robbie Blevins joke with Johnston about his fierce competitive streak, which they say stems from his love of Tennessee basketball.
“He threatens sometimes: ‘If you’re not going to play any better than that I’ll go watch Tennessee,’” Yates said as he smiled at Johnston.
Johnton’s reply was simple. “I don’t like to lose, but who does?” he said with a chuckle.
The two met through a mutual hairdresser, Larry Wilson, who explained to Yates how much Johnston wanted to become a coach.
A phone call later, Johnston was a part of the team.
Inside the locker room, players crowd around Johnston. His eyes grow serious beneath a pair of thin metal-framed glasses and once the room is silent, he unfolds the piece of paper and begins to speak.
“I want you to dominate the boards and I want you to dominate them at the foul line,” Johnston says.
With a loud and stern tone, Johnston then asks the boys to “turn up the intensity,” to which they answer with “yes sir” and several nods.
“We are on top of a mountain and all the other teams are trying to knock us off,” Johnston says in the climax of his speech.
Charged with a new burst of energy, the boys huddle up and say a prayer before storming out of the locker room.
Not only have Johnston’s pep talks become a ritual for the Golden Eagles, but also a source of courage.
Johnston has cerebral palsy and even though he cannot play basketball, both coaches and players agree that he knows a lot about the game.
“When we lost to North, he made a list of things we could do better,” Yates said. “It matched my list word for word.”
Johnston’s parents, Buddy and Vicki, make sure he gets to all of the Tri-Cities Christian games.
“As far as Adam is concerned, he has no disability,” Vicki said. “I have never told him he couldn’t do anything he wanted to do and that everyone has things they don’t do well and he’s no different.”
Johnston also has left quite an impression on his players.
“Whenever I listen to him, even when he’s saying something I don’t want to hear because I’m frustrated or mad at the game, he just has something that makes me want to listen to him,” Freeman said.
Freeman and fellow senior Benji Nunn agree that the Golden Eagles wouldn’t have had such a winning season had it not been for Johnston’s encouraging words.
“I want to motivate them,” Johnston said.
Perhaps that’s not all he’s done for these young men.