By Michelle Chance
The Johnson siblings are defeating the common narrative that student-athletes must often sacrifice their academic performance to excel on the court and field.
In fact, Maricopa High School students Johnny Jr., Josh and Jayla Johnson are proving they not only can balance the demands of the classroom and their sports, but they exceed in both as well.
Parents Johnny Sr. and Shontray Johnson said they have reinforced the importance of academics and athletics to their children from the beginning.
“First of all, we let them know that they are students first and then athletes,” Shontray said. “It’s a privilege to be an athlete.”
The Johnsons have seven children. Jaulisa lives in Colorado, Kyndra graduated from the University of Arizona, and Jahnei graduated from MHS in 2014 (she scored 546 points in two basketball seasons) and is attending Central Arizona College.
The family’s philosophy of setting high expectations in education and sports has clearly been embraced by the Johnson kids.
Johnny Jr., a senior at MHS, recently signed a letter of intent to play football at Scottsdale Community College. He was named All Section First Team in basketball, and he was honored during Black History Month by the City of Maricopa and The Flock Ministries for his classroom performance and being a young man of good character.
Johnny Jr. said overcoming social distractions in high school has been one of his biggest obstacles, but he said he keeps focused in part because of his long-term goal of becoming a top high school and collegiate athlete.
However, he also attributed his and his siblings’ success to their parents, both of whom were celebrated student-athletes themselves – Shontray played basketball at the University of Detroit Mercy, and Johnny Sr. played tennis at Montbello High School in Denver.
“They know the struggle between athletes and academics, so they push us because they know it’s hard,” Johnny Jr. said.
Shontray said she and Johnny Sr. use their experience to help guide their children to manage their time wisely.
“The balance in your life is extremely important when you are trying to play while in school,” Shontray said.
A sophomore, Josh was a point guard on the varsity basketball team, another All Section First Team selection, who said he recognizes a lot of student-athletes have a hard time, but “our parents really manage us and make sure we are on top of stuff at school, as well as sports.”
The youngest of the gifted trio, Jayla is a freshman basketball player at MHS who averaged 14 points a game before being promoted to the varsity team during the state tournament.
“It was exciting,” Jayla said, noting that despite being a young player in a position many would consider to carry a lot of pressure, the experience for her was positive.
Although her performance on the court is impressive, basketball does not dominate her time.
“Academics come before athletics,” Jayla said.
That all sets an example for Jabari, the youngest.
According to Johnny Sr., the family moved to Maricopa from Denver in 2010, and like a team on any field or court, the Johnsons have strived to flourish as a unit.
In fact, staying together as a family is how the family defines success.
“We love each other, we care for each other, we support each other,” Shontray said. “The most important thing for success is family.”
This story was published in the April issue of InMaricopa.