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District to name proposed, renovated high school gym after former athletic director Coach Leo Johnson

Coach Leo Johnson and Superintendent 
Dr. Joseph DeBarbieri

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May 31, 2024

Earlier this year, the Baldwinsville Board of Education unanimously approved the naming of the proposed renovated main gymnasium at C.W. Baker High School after Coach Leo Johnson. Johnson dedicated 30 years of his life to coaching and mentoring athletes in the Baldwinsville Central School District. 

Johnson served as a wrestling coach and an athletic director where he impacted countless lives and shaped the future of Baldwinsville sports programs. Voters approved the renovation of the high school gym in May 2023 and construction is expected to start in April 2025. The district will honor Johnson with a dedication ceremony during the Athletic Awards on Thursday, June 6th. The event is open to the public and will be held in the auditorium at Baker High School. 

Among Johnson’s many roles he was a friend, mentor and father-figure for three decades to Baldwinsville Bees. Community members, former students and staff, including Anthony Saraceni and Joseph Saraceni, made the request to the Board of Education to honor Johnson for years to come by naming the proposed, renovated main gymnasium in his honor.

Johnson’s name has been synonymous with wrestling since 1960 when his coaching career began at East-Syracuse Minoa. He has been called “Mr. Wrestling.” In 1964, he began coaching in Baldwinsville. Under Johnson, the Bees won 14 Onondaga League Wrestling Championships, eight Section III Class A Championships and eight Section III Tournament wrestling titles. From 1978 to 1981, Johnson’s teams were the top-ranked dual meet team in the state. During his combined 25 years of wrestling, Johnson's teams at ESM and Baldwinsville have compiled a phenomenal 255-36-5 record, and 87.6 percent winning average. His Baldwinsville wrestling teams had become the most awesome force on the high school mats by earning the New York State dual meet championship in 1978, 1979 and 1981. The squad had two losses against some 130 victories.

Coach Leo Johnson

Johnson won numerous Coach of the Year honors, including Northeast Regional Coach of the Year in 1974. In 1980, he was selected National Wrestling Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. 

A graduate of SUNY Cortland, he is a member of its Athletic Hall of Fame. Other honors include induction into the state High School Wrestling Hall of Fame and the National High School Hall of Fame. In 1998, Johnson was inducted into the National Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame in Slitter, OK. 

As an athletic director, Leo played an instrumental role in fostering a culture of sportsmanship and teamwork within our community. He has tirelessly worked towards providing opportunities for young athletes to develop their skills while instilling values such as discipline, dedication, and respect. Through his leadership, he has helped shape well-rounded individuals who excel not just athletically but also academically. He retired as athletic director in 1994.