NEW PALESTINE — When Alex Johns approached the podium inside the New Palestine High School cafeteria Wednesday night, all eyes fixated on the new head wrestling coach.
Addressing more than 20 parents, assistant coaches and his future wrestlers, Johns, as he has throughout his wrestling career, had a gameplan in place, glancing down at his notes on occasion to stay on track.
Determined not to miss a single talking point, the 25-year-old, who is technical and detailed both on and off the mat, rarely finds himself unprepared — and when those scarce situations do unfold, he’s quick to adjust.
Pushing aside the microphone mid-speech on Wednesday while motioning to Jason DeLois of the Dragon Wrestling Club, Johns deviated from his script with a seamless momentary pause.
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“Excuse me,” Johns told the crowd while DeLois brought over a cup of water. After a couple of quick sips to clear his throat, he was off again, “Thank you. As I was saying …”
What followed made the parents take notice and his wrestlers sit up straight in their seats.
Each key word and phrase, led to another: “athletes of high character,” “STUDENT-athlete first,” “community service,” “success.”
New Palestine athletics director Al Cooper was among the many nodding in approval as his coach, pending Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County board approval, outlined the pillars of his philosophy.
“This young man is exactly what our community was looking for. First and foremost, he’s an educator. He has a master’s degree already at an early age, and he’s got two years of college coaching experience,” Cooper remarked. “I’m interested to see where he takes our wrestling program. I know it will be very intense and competitive. He’s very knowledgeable at a high level of wrestling.”
Born in Evansville, Johns grasped his command of the sport through life experience rather than pedigree.
His father Mark wrestled for a few seasons in middle school while his mother, JoAnn, was a state-place winner in gymnastics. The future two-time NCAA Division II All-American, started wrestling in the first grade before starring at both Evansville Reitz High School and the University of Indianapolis.
Coached by Scott Ferguson at Reitz, Johns amassed a 196-17 record and placed three times at state, taking third in 112 and 119 his junior and senior years, respectively.
At UIndy, Johns was a three-time NCAA Division II national qualifier (2010, 2013, 2014) and earned All-American honors in 2013 and 2014.
His career record (115-25) ranked him fifth all-time in Greyhounds’ program history, but his proudest accomplishment stemmed back to his coaching emphasis.
“My biggest achievement was being named First Team Academic All-American twice in college,” Johns told his audience.
His passion for academia motivated him to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching (business education) this year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2014.
While juggling a full course load, Johns served as an assistant coach for the UIndy wrestling team, which was crowned the 2015 NWCA Team Academic National Champions and had four All-Americans in his tenure.
“The perseverance of doing things the right way is what wrestling has taught me growing up. That’s what I live my life by, staying committed to what I’m doing and accomplishing those goals,” said Johns, who was officially hired Monday as a business teacher at the high school.
“At the University of Indianapolis, we did a lot of community service projects, and the student aspect of doing things the right way in the classroom was a No. 1 priority. We emphasized it, and I want to do the same with my own program.”
He also wants to increase numbers and create depth at New Palestine, from the youth club to the varsity level. Johns intends to reach his goal by working with several familiar faces and names such as assistant coach Josh Franklin, Steve Perry and DeLois.
Each partnered with former head coach Chad Red Sr., who in five seasons shaped 18 state qualifiers and 13 state place winners. Of those, 15 state qualifiers and 13 state place winners materialized while he was head coach the past four seasons.
With Red at the helm, the Dragons placed no lower than 17th as a team at the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals the past four seasons and were a school-best fifth overall in 2013-14.
The team compiled a 68-4 record and were 86-7 the five years while Red was affiliated with New Palestine while his son, C.J., won four straight state titles without a single loss.
Johns, who was recommended to Cooper by Red, said he believes he can continue the tradition, beginning immediately.
“I wanted to win as a competitor, and I also want to win as a coach,” he said. “I’m young. I’m passionate about the sport and I want to do what it takes to be successful.”
He grabbed incoming senior Alec White’s attention long before his presentation began. With college aspirations and driven to earn his third career state medal this winter, White has been training all summer for his finale campaign.
“He’s about my size, so there’s a training partner element there,” said White, who placed sixth in last February’s state finals at 113 pounds. “He’s young and he’s in the building, so I think we’ll get a lot more people out this year.”
Seeing more wrestlers move onto the college ranks is equally as important, said Johns.
“I know what those college coaches are looking for in a kid. I handled some recruiting, and a lot of that, like I mentioned to everyone, is character building skills and academic success,” Johns said. “I had a number of people when I was younger that impacted my life. Most of them were educators and coaches. I feel I can be that same type of person; I want to pay if forward along to wrestlers in the same situation I was in before and help them achieve.”
Name: Alex Johns
Position: New Palestine wrestling coach/business teacher
High school: Evansville Reitz
College: University of Indianapolis
Education: Bachelor’s degree (exercise science – UIndy), Master of Arts in Teacher (business education – UIndy)
Prep accolades: Career record of 196-17, three-time IHSAA state place winner
Collegiate honors: Three-time NCAA Division II National Qualifier (2010, 2013, 2014), two-time NCAA Division II All-American (2013, 2014), two-time NWCA First Team Academic All-American, career record of 115-25.
Coaching experience: Two years as assistant for the University of Indianapolis