Performance: Escanaba's Paxton Johnson

June 8, 2018

Paxton Johnson
Escanaba junior – Golf

The Eskymos’ ace became the 10th in MHSAA history to win a third Girls Golf Finals individual championship when she shot an 80 on May 31 at Escanaba Country Club to claim the Upper Peninsula Division 1 title by five strokes and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Johnson next season will attempt to join Marquette’s Kendra Palmer (1996-99) and Carley Saint-Onge (2008-11) as the only four-time Finals winners. Johnson has averaged 80 strokes for 18 holes during the first three seasons of her high school career, despite often battling tough spring conditions during the U.P. thaw, and has won 31 of 32 high school events she’s played. She’s managed her Finals success despite playing the last three seasons against Houghton’s Kaaren Liston, who won the U.P. Division 1 title in 2015 as a freshman and finished second (or tied for second) to Johnson the last three years. Last week’s championship came despite a storm that halted play and left sizable puddles on the course as golfers returned – but Johnson continued to shine and in the process also led Escanaba to its third straight UP Division 1 team championship.

In addition to starring on the course, Johnson plays volleyball during the fall and carries a 4.1 grade-point average to rank second academically in her graduating class. Her favorite subject is chemistry – “It’s fun to be able to overcome challenges,” she said – and she hopes to study after high school to become a pharmaceutical chemist while continuing her golf career at the collegiate level.

Coach Brian Robinette said: “She's had a phenomenal run for sure. Her fundamentals and golf IQ are remarkable. She is also the type that works when coaches are not looking. All this and she is the No. 2-ranked student in her class. Pax is truly driven to play at the next level.”

Performance Point: “I played pretty solid for my first nine holes, and then I had a mess-up on (No.) 10 and then we got called off the course, which helped me get my momentum back. The only places I really struggled after that were on the holes that were really soaked with water where even a casual water drop didn’t really help. So I think it went pretty well considering the weather conditions. … I didn’t really know how wet it was until we got out to that hole. I was just glad that it wasn’t still raining. It was actually kinda nice out.”

Cusp of history: I actually know Kendra Palmer; I played in the U.P. Ladies Finals with her. I just think it would be really cool to be able to have my name in that group. They’re both really good golfers. … I really started thinking about it this year. After I won the first two (MHSAA titles) and I found out the Finals were at my home course this year, I was like, ‘OK, if I can pull off the third I’ll have some momentum going into my fourth year.’”

Lead the way: “I’d really like to win another team championship, so I really want to work hard at that. That’s my main priority. I plan on asking my teammates to golf with me all summer long to get a feel for it more. We had a senior who graduated who had a lot of experience, but other than that, the rest of our team is really new. I just like being able to encourage my teammates, and congratulate them after we win as a team; that’s a great feeling. Especially after U.P.s (Finals), once we added up the scores, being able to tell whole team we did it and we pulled it off was a great feeling.”

Golfer for every season: “When the snow does melt, we do try to get out as soon as we can, as soon as the course is open. We just try to stay out as long as we can and try to make the most of the season. … I’ve played in snow before, and sleet and snow at the same time. There was one round at our (Great Northern Conference) finals where we got called off the course, but before we got called off it started downpouring and the greens were just running with water and we were still playing, so that was interesting. … (My strength) is probably being able to play and stay focused in whatever weather comes my way just because I have played in those conditions before. I see people get frustrated and just lose focus. (I’m) just trying to stay focused, focused on lies and stuff like that – it’s more defensive golf against the weather and just trying to play it safe.”

Looking up to Lexi: “I really like Lexi Thompson, just how aggressive she plays. She’s fearless on the course. I went to an LPGA event one time and actually got to meet her, and that was cool.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
May 31: Lydia Goble, Schoolcraft softball - Read
May 24: Corinne Jemison, East Kentwood track & field - Read
May 17: Reagan Wisser, Richland Gull Lake soccer - Read
May 10: Clayton Sayen, Houghton track & field - Read
May 3: Autumn Roberts, Traverse City Central tennis - Read
April 26: Thomas Robinson, Wyoming Lee track & field - Read
March 29: Carlos Johnson, Benton Harbor basketball - Read
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City West golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson watches one of her drives during last week’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Johnson putts on the way to earning her third individual championship. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.