West athletic director Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson has been hired as the new activities director for Mankato West High School, replacing Brian Fell. Johnson begins his duties July 1. Photo by Jackson Forderer

MANKATO — Joe Johnson considers himself a pretty fortunate guy.

On his very first attempt at trying to land a high school activities director job, he was hired at Mankato West a few weeks ago.

He won't have to relocate, since he's lived and worked in Mankato for more than 22 years. And he's only 17 miles from where he grew up in Janesville.

"I admit I was pretty confident after the second round of interviews," Johnson said. "But when they told I had the job, it was a great feeling. For me it's like the ideal situation."

Johnson, 39, was born in Northfield and moved with his family to Janesville when he was 7. After graduating from JWP High School in 1998, he attended Minnesota State and earned his undergraduate teaching degree.

He taught physical education and health in South St. Paul for one year in 2004-05 and then went back to JWP for a year in 2005-2006. From there he gravitated to Mankato and has been working in the East school district since 2006.

In addition to his teaching duties, Johnson served as a varsity assistant in football, wrestling, baseball and track.

Last summer he was looking for a new challenge and began pursuing his master's degree at MSU. 

"I enjoyed the classroom and coaching a lot but I was looking for something different," he said. "Becoming an athletic director had always interested me so I decided to do something about it."

This past school year he and Jesse Buttell took over the ESS program at Prairie Winds Middle School. It stands for empowering student success and the two of them identified students who could use some help with academics and behavioral issues and gave them as much support as possible.

"It's a very rewarding program," Johnson said. "We had our successes and even though I won't be doing it next year they're going to keep it going."

About halfway through the 2018-19 school year, the West AD job was posted and Johnson decided to give it a shot. He figured at the very least, he'd get some experience polishing up his resume and going through the interview process.

The first round of interviews with the search committee went well and he was called back as one of the finalists. The second round included an interview session with superintendent Sheri Allen, West principal Sherri Blasing and East activities director Todd Waterbury.

"It's a fairly extensive process but I felt like I had a handle on the questions they asked," he said. "My experience as a teacher and coach helped me out a lot."

A short time later he was recommended to the school board and was approved at its regular meeting in early June.

"He's absolutely a good choice," Waterbury said. "I think he's going to do a wonderful job. He's organized, he's energetic, he relates well person-to-person.

"We'll be working together on a lot of things and I expect we'll help each other a lot. He's a great guy, has strong communication skills and I believe West is going to be very pleased with his performance."

Blasing is also optimistic: "I think he's a great fit for us and our extra-curricular activities. He brings a lot to the table and he's already familiar with our school district. We're fortunate to have him." 

Jim Rueda is The Free Press Sports Editor. Follow him on twitter @JimRueda

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