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Legend Passes

Nov. 18, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

USA Pentathlon is greatly saddened at the news of long-time Pentathlon coach, Howard Johnston. Coach Johnston was loved and respected by generations of Pentathletes. He will be sincerely missed. A great runner, coach, mentor and friend. Life is a journey--not a race.

Howard Johnston

The following was written by Richard Olive and republished from the San Antonio Express-News.

Johnston taught athletes about running, life 

The news of the recent death of Howard L. Johnston, former track and field coach at Highlands High School and head of the running program for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team, spread quickly among the athletes with whom he had worked.

“He not only made us faster, but better men,” Chuck Richards, a three-time pentathlon national champion and 1972 Olympian, wrote in an email. “We all grew with his direction.”

The influence of Johnston, who died Friday at 86, was celebrated not only for its impact on runners, but on the athletic landscape of San Antonio. Victor Rodriguez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District for 12 years before retiring in 1994, recalls Johnston's work as Highlands track coach and vice principal, but also in spearheading the district's enforcement of Title IX in the 1970s. “We needed somebody well-respected,” said Rodriguez, who had replaced Johnston, an Illinois native, as Highlands track coach in 1967. “It went without a hitch because of his leadership. We didn't have any trouble bringing that on because of him.”

During Johnston's run of more than a decade overseeing the running program at the pentathlon training center at Fort Sam Houston, ending in the late 1970s, the Drake University graduate worked with notable athletes including Olympian Bob Nieman, Paul Hornsleth, Mark Driscoll, Orb Greenwald and Richards, among many others.

Several who trained under Johnston recalled him Monday as a hard-driving coach who complemented workouts with a wry sense of humor and unwavering humanity. At one point, the coach worked with the athletes while his own son waged a successful battle against cancer.

“He was one of those wonderful coaches who changes your life no matter how much you resist it,” said San Antonio Sports chairman George Block, a former pentathlete. “We saw him as a coach, a father and a vulnerable man. He taught us all how precious life was.”

Johnston's Highlands track and field teams were powerful, capturing the title at the Border Olympics — then a nationally recognized meet in Laredo — in 1966. The Owls annually were state-title contenders in individual and team competitions.

In the 1950s, Johnston, who had run cross country at Drake, teamed with Rodriguez to bring that sport to the city. “In my opinion, I never respected anybody more in track and field than Howard Johnston,” Rodriguez said.

Johnston was preceded in death by his parents; son, Jerry Bradley Johnston; and sisters, Lois Johnston and Doris Miller.

Visitation for Johnston will be from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday at Porter Loring Mortuary North, 2102 North Loop 1604.

roliver@express-news.net
Twitter: @RichardCOliver

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