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Wildcats’ Johnson thrilled with surprise offer

Bill Althaus
Callie Johnson, who has signed to run track and field at UMKC, visits with her Blue Springs High School hurdles coach Jim Johnson, a former Big Eight Conference pole vault champion who is also her grandfather.

Blue Springs High School graduate Callie Johnson didn’t have a prom, a senior track and field season or the chance to bid a final goodbye to many of her Wildcat track teammates and friends.

However, this COVID-19 pandemic story has a fairy tale ending as the Blue Springs hurdler and javelin performer recently received a surprise phone call that resulted in a Division I scholarship to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“We all thought that I needed a strong senior season to get any Division I offers, but a couple of weeks ago I got a call from the track coach at UMKC,” Johnson said before a Thursday night workout on the Gary Parker track at Peve Stadium. “We talked for a while and he asked me if I would be interested in competing at UMKC, which I couldn’t believe – I was so excited! I told him I would and he offered me a scholarship.”

Now, she says, the hard work begins.

“It’s kind of funny, because I’m not great at anything,” said Johnson, who runs the 100 meters and 300 hurdles and throws the javelin, “but I’m pretty good at a lot of events.

“And that’s what (UMKC) Coach (Benaud) Shirley said he liked about me,” said Johnson, a member of The Examiner’s All-Area team in track and field last year in the javelin. “I’m pretty strong, and pretty fast and can run the hurdles, so I’m going to run the pentathlon and the heptathlon in college. I can’t wait, it’s really going to be exciting.”

The pentathlon consists of five events, all of which are run the same day – 60-meter hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump and 1,000 meters. It is an indoor event.

The outdoor heptathlon is a two-day outdoor event that features the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200 meters the first day and the long jump, javelin and 800-meter run the second day.

“I’m going to work hard this summer to be ready for all those events at UMKC,” Johnson said. “It’s funny how this worked out because Tyler Rathke, the track coach at William Chrisman and our coaches, Coach (Jennifer) Reeder and Coach (Joe) Cusack were talking to coaches for me.

“I’ve never even met Coach Rathke and he’s helping me by talking to coaches. I hope they all know how much I appreciate them.”

Another coach she appreciates is Blue Springs hurdles coach Jim Johnson, a 1974 Raytown South graduate who set a then Big Eight indoor pole vault record by clearing 17 feet, 1 inch at Municipal Auditorium.

“I’m so proud of Callie,” said Jim Johnson, who joined sprints coach Tom Lester at the Thursday workout. “I thought she would need a strong senior season to get looks from a Division I program, and then she got the call from UMKC.

“It’s Division I, it’s a great program and school, and it’s so close we can all go watch her compete. It’s just about perfect.”

Lester agreed, adding, “Callie is a hard worker and we’re all happy for her. She’s going to have to get accustomed to competing against 20-, 21- and 22-year-olds who have a lot more experience.

“But with her work ethic that shouldn’t be a problem.”