Innovative leadership programs have helped Johns Creek athletes create a path for life after high school

Since Jason Holcombe took over as athletic director at Johns Creek High School (just northeast of Atlanta), the school has made a name for itself not just through its athletic programs, but from its approach to education and creating leadership opportunities for its students.

Academically, Johns Creek is among the top 2 percent of schools in Georgia and has a graduation rate of 97 percent. The school is a proponent of athletics, arts, and academics, and its high standards are reflected in its athletic program.

Johns Creek is competitive in every one of its 16 sports. Three years ago, the school was reclassified into a smaller tier and was able to face schools its own size (enrolment of 2,100) rather than schools with twice the population. It now regularly sends teams to state finals in 90 percent of its sports. And Holcombe works to make sure all sports are equally supported.

“As an AD, the goal is to make school pride infectious for all sports,” he said. “We are all Gladiators, and we want to make sure the school and community provide support to all programs.”

While the school strives for athletic excellence, Holcombe sets the bar higher for Johns Creek. “Our job is to prepare young men and women to be equipped to face life’s challenges after graduation. They learn to win and lose with grace and how to come back stronger when faced with obstacles.”

As part of a holistic leadership philosophy, Johns Creek has created several innovative programs:

Rebranding, school pride, and new revenue

“We needed to modernize our branding,” Holcombe said. “It was time for all our teams to have a unified look. Consistency and feel are important. When the kids get off the bus or walk down the school hallway, they should look like Johns Creek athletes.”

Eastbay helped adapt the primary logos to specific sports. “Eastbay created an online photo repository for different variations of the logo for every sport,” Holcombe said. “Coaches were inspired to suggest new ideas for their own logo variations.”

Once finalized, Johns Creek began building online team stores to help promote the school and drive revenue.

“Coaches have done a tremendous job of getting their online team stores live,” Holcombe said. “They work with Eastbay to pick out the product, which is posted for the parents and community to look at. The ordering is online, and items ship directly to the customer, so they don’t have to do any physical work. Eastbay’s been a great partner for us.”

Special Needs program support

Johns Creek has created a remarkably inclusive and supportive relationship with special needs students. In addition to mentoring the students academically, members of the athletic teams embrace the opportunities to get them involved with sports programs.

“Special needs students have served as managers on our teams,” Holcombe said. “One student in a wheelchair — we call him Coach — attends every baseball game, home or away, and presents the line-up card to the umpire. He’s really part of the team. It wouldn’t be a Johns Creek baseball game without that student in attendance.”

Johns Creek organized a send-off for the Special Olympics basketball team. “The drumline and cheer team were there, and 150-250 students made a tunnel for those athletes as they were getting on the bus,” Holcombe said. “It was huge. The look in their eyes was amazing.”

Strong promotion of multisport participation

Getting athletes involved in more than one sport is a key component in the Johns Creek philosophy, Holcombe said.

“Studies have shown that multiple-sport athletes are more involved, get better grades, and have a more positive outlook. The experience and discipline helps them develop their problem-solving, leadership, and interpersonal skills for later on in life.”

The athletic department tracks athletes’ grades and brings in guest speakers (including local pro athletes and alumni) to talk about topics such as social media awareness, managing schedules, and leadership. “The guest speakers help students understand that they’re held to a higher standard and how to prioritize and deal with pressure,” Holcombe said.