WARSAW – If you have watched any Warsaw softball at all this season, you can’t miss Grace Johnson. And, apparently, she won’t let you.
“Grace Johnson in the hooooouse!”
That’s how Johnson entered the ‘S’ building adjacent to the Warsaw softball diamonds for her 15 minutes of fame. She was a little late, but running on her own time, and it was just fine. For a freshman, it’s actually pretty refreshing. But digging deeper, there’s a little more to it.
“She has a lot of energy, I’ll say that much,” quipped Warsaw varsity softball coach Kevin Dishman in the hall, preferring to smile and let Johnson do her thing.
Johnson is playing her freshman softball season with a lot of pressure on herself. There isn’t a train of scouts coming to watch each day, or even the lure of giant crowds to show off for. But one person in the stands makes it enough, and one person who isn’t in the stands – literally – makes the Johnson story very interesting.
Heather Johnson loves to nitpick at Grace’s game. Knowing her daughter has all the physical and mental tools to play softball at a high level, Johnson’s high-level intellect often takes over. As the head coach for the Grace College softball program, which today is fighting for its life in the NCCAA Regional, Johnson knows the game. And so does her daughter. Mix in the knowledge that dad, Jay, has, and it can be tricky for a 14-year-old to survive. But while Heather has the opportunity to sit in the stands and offer tips, Jay can not.
Jay is currently an assistant softball coach with Elon University in North Carolina, and has been away from home for the past year. Jay, a former assistant to Heather at Grace, took the job as a chance to step up the softball ladder. Heather, who didn’t want to immediately jump ship at Grace, will be stepping down once Grace is eliminated from the national tournament. Heather is also taking daughter Grace and sons Taft and Mack as they will likely head to Greensboro to join Jay.
“I’ve had Jay on FaceTime a couple times so he could see Grace’s at-bats, to be a part of it,” Heather said. “I had the opportunity to see Grace’s first home run (May 2 versus Memorial), but I know she misses dad. We are just trying to figure things out the best we can. We do have a lot of support here, which the college has been very good about. It’s not ideal, it’s temporary.”
As for Grace, she is making one of the biggest emotional life adjustments in not just jumping into high school, then having dad move away for work, but knowing her bags are already packed. Once freshman year ends at the end of the month, and Warsaw finishes its high school softball season, the Johnson’s are heading to the Tar Heel state.
Grace, as she and most everyone expected, is crushing it this year on the softball diamond. Through Monday, the slugger has a slash line of .456/.484/.649 with five doubles, two homers and 15 RBIs in 19 games. She has two or more hits in 10 of those 19 games, and leads the team in the Triple Crown categories (hits, runs batted in, average).
“I’ve always played sports, and put my life into sports,” Grace stated. “I’ve always been competing against people, whether in softball, or volleyball, or track or basketball. So I never had any super close friends. But I never really worried about that part of my life, just sports. But that was just part of my life growing up. People say life doesn’t revolve around sports, but it kinda does. The move is just another part of that sports story for me.”
Grace added in having two parents that coach college softball, “I always grew up around older people and being around college softball teams, so I am used to it. I know that I eventually want to play in college, and it’s just part of the conversation now. But I don’t view my parents as coaches. I view them as mom and dad. I’m very respectful of them and what they are.
“People always say, ‘well, my mom is my best friend.’ Well, she’s not. She’s my mom. I respect her and respect my coaches like they are any other human. I don’t look at them any differently. That’s how it’s always been with me.”
Grace and her Warsaw teammates will take the home field tonight against NorthWood, a 5 p.m. start.