NEWTON Hundreds mourn Johnston
During the most difficult moment of Mary Davison’s life, W.T. Johnston was there to offer support.
That moment came nearly two decades ago when Mary’s son, James, a Newton football player, died in a car crash.
An assistant coach for Newton at the time, Johnston spoke at the funeral. After all, he was James’ favorite coach, Mary said.
On Wednesday night, Mary and hundreds more Newton fans showed up at Singletary Stadium to honor Johnston, who died Saturday after his long battle fighting a rare disease contracted from a double lung transplant in 2015.
The memorial service allowed Mary one last chance to pay respect to the man who meant so much to her son and many other Eagles.
“I just wanted to come honor him for everything he did for my son and this entire community,” said Mary, who graduated from Newton in 1975. “I don’t get around real well anymore, but this was worth the trip.”
Johnston spent more than 20 years at Newton and served as head coach at the school since 2010, winning the Class 3A Div. II state title during each of the last two seasons.
His son and defensive coordinator, Drew, was promoted in late April to head coach and athletic director after Johnston retired earlier that month.
During Wednesday’s memorial service, Drew sat with other Johnston family members in the front row, just a few feet away from his father’s casket.
That casket was driven onto the field in a hearse to begin the ceremony, followed by the Johnston family and members of the Newton football team.
Just about everyone in Newton has a story about W.T. Johnston.
One of his former players, 2017 state champion Corbin Foster, remembers sharing rehab trips with his coach. While Foster was working back from his second knee injury in two seasons, Johnston was undergoing treatment for his rare graft-versus-host disease.
“We spent a lot of one-one-time together because of that,” Foster said. “He helped me grow not only physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.”
For current Anahuac head coach Greg Neece, his best Johnston story involved the unfortunate passing of Neece’s younger brother, Booty.
While Booty was battling brain cancer, W.T. was fighting his lung disease.
“They developed a brotherly bond that couldn’t be broken,” Neece said.
Coaches from all around Southeast Texas attended the memorial service at Newton High School. Many learned both football and life lessons from the late Eagles coach.
Longtime West Orange-Stark coach Cornel Thompson was one of those numerous attendees. Eight years ago, he was at a similar service for another decorated Eagles coach: Curtis Barbay.
“The coaching fraternity and the Newton community has lost a great man,” Thompson said of Johnston. “This is the second time in the last decade that I’ve been up here for a service honoring a coach of this caliber. It’s a reunion for a bunch of people who have been positively influenced by a great man.”
Johnston was a devoted Christian and often spoke of his strong faith with players and during media interviews.
For Wednesday’s service, a purple ‘N’ with the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31 was painted into the field.
The verse reads as follows:
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”