Feb. 3, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Tiffany Johnson always liked the number one and the deference with which it was treated.
“It may sound cocky, but I just feel like everybody remembers the number 1,” said Johnson, who admitted she also wore No. 3 growing up but upon arriving at Martin Luther King Jr. High School and finding No. 3 taken, grabbed No. 1 and wore it thereafter. “No matter what, everybody remembers the person that wore No. 1. I just felt like that was my number.”
It forever will be Johnson’s number at MLK.
Friday night, the school honored the Atlanta native by retiring her number one jersey, making her the first female athlete to have her number retired by the school.
“It was an overwhelming experience because when you’re five or six and you play a game and you love it so much you don’t think about your jersey being retired,” she said. “You just have a love for the sport and that’s what I’ve always had, a love for softball. I didn’t care what accolades I got. As long as I had a ball and a glove I was fine. It was a great experience and it’s a blessing.”
A large contingent of family, including her mom, dad and three of her four siblings, were in attendance — her oldest brother could not make it as he’s overseas in the service — and several aunts and uncles. Also there were friends, including U.S. National Team outfielder Rhea Taylor, and former MLK baseball player and current Cleveland Indian Cedric Hunter, whose No. 1 is retired by the school and who lobbied to retire Johnson’s number, MLK faculty and her former coaches.
Included among the coaches was current Georgia Tech Softball Coach Sharon Perkins, who remembered Johnson fondly.
“Tiffany was a fierce competitor and would do anything you asked her to do,” said Perkins. “She was a great all-around athlete that was an honor and a privilege to coach.”
Johnson felt privileged to have Perkins attend the ceremony. The two have been connected since arriving on The Flats in 2007. Perkins was named head coach after being associate head coach at Georgia the previous six years. Johnson transferred to Tech after playing her freshman year at Florida A&M.
“It meant the world for Coach Perkins to be there because she is one of my favorite coaches,” she said. “Our relationship was very unique. I’m not going to say I was her special player but I was one of those players that she could say anything to and I was determined to do it.”
One special request Perkins had of Johnson is something both still laugh about and has actually become part of the softball team’s regulations.
“We used to have a 10-, 15-minute drive to the field to go to a game to prepare and I used to fall asleep within a 5-, 10-minute span,” Johnson recalled, with a laugh. “So ‘Perk’ finally came up with a rule. It’s the ‘T.J. Rule.’ No sleeping before a game. It’s one of the funniest moments ever. That will forever be in my heart, to I know that I have a rule in the rule book, the ‘T.J. Rule’.”
“The ‘TJ Rule’ is literally in our team manual,” said Perkins. “That deals with no sleeping on the way from the hotel to the game. T.J. was famous for falling asleep even in a 10-minute period.”
When Johnson was awake, she was a nightmare for opposing hitters. She ranks second among school single-season leaders in saves, earning five in 2007, and strikeouts (188) in 2007, and is fourth in opposing batting average, .170, in 2009. In fact, in strikeouts and opposing BA Johnson is the only pitcher in the top five not named Jessica Sallinger. She also threw a perfect game against Maryland on May 2, 2009 to clinch Tech’s ACC regular-season title.
Johnson spent the 2010 season as a student assistant coach until completing her degree in science, technology & culture, then spent last season as pitching coach for Mississippi Valley State of the SWAC. Her influence was profound on the Devilettes, who won the regular season title and were runners-up in the conference tournament, as Lisa Jansen was named conference Pitcher of the Year.
She has decided to step away from softball and now is putting her energies into her off-the-field love, marketing and public relations, working with a close friend for Atlanta-based Certifax Taxes.
“We’re going to start doing non-profit events to give back to charities,” Johnson said. “I am basically his marketing and PR partner. I do everything pertaining to the marketing of the celebrity events. We have an event March 2nd in Macon, a celebrity basketball game and it’s going to give back to the Boys and Girls Club of Central Georgia.”
Johnson is looking forward to working for the non-profit but insisted that softball isn’t completely out of her system and that she’s looking forward to giving back to Perkins’ program.
“I’ll come back just to pitch or give the girls feedback because I do support,” she said. “I do come to the games in the regular season, come back to support ‘Perk.'”
She also has plans to visit MLK and talk to the girls there, who will see the person who once wore the No. 1 jersey that now hangs up.
“I’ll go back and speak to the girls and let them know, ‘Hey, nobody else can wear No. 1,” she said, with a laugh.
“It’s a blessing,” she added. “It’s the only way I really can describe it because I had never thought they would ever retire my jersey. Not to talk down upon myself, but there are so many other athletes as well that deserve the exact same thing. I was one of the ones that was picked. So it’s a blessing.”