Girls volleyball season is always a challenge for Julie Johnson. From the tough opponents of the Southern Connecticut Conference, to getting younger players acclimated and preparing seniors for college, coaching can easily be Johnson’s toughest job.
But it’s not.
Johnson is captain of the New Haven Police Department and has been working in law enforcement since 1996. In addition to coaching a team and leading a police department, Johnson is a mother of three.
“I’ve always made it work because it’s important for me to make it work,” she said. “And I’ve always had a great support system.”
That includes her husband, Herb Johnson. He is a lieutenant on the New Haven Police Department and agreed that they are able to make things work. It’s not easy, but Julie has a lot to do with why things come together.
“She’s unbelievable,” Herb Johnson said. “A very strong women and I’m just happy that she’s with me.”
Her players feel the same.
“I thought it was really cool that she’s a coach and a cop,” said Foran senior outside hitter Kelly Hunt. “It’s an inspiration.”
Back in 1996, Julie’s goal was to be an inspiration, no matter what.
“I Seized My Moment”
Julie Johnson had just finished college and earned an internship at the New Haven Police Department. The Milford native obtained her bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama and her master’s at the University of New Haven. Johnson said she always knew she wanted to work in a specific segment of law enforcement.
“It was the only thing that held my interest,” she said. “I was very interested in the juvenile side of it.”
While she was interning, a position at the New Haven Police Department opened up. Johnson jumped at the chance to be a police officer.
“They were accepting applications,” she said. “So I applied and they were giving a grant and I got hired in like two months, which is unheard of.”
And other than wanting to fulfill her own personal goals, she had other more important reasons for going for the job.
“I had a young daughter and thought it was a good opportunity to have a good, stable job,” she said.
Still, Julie Johnson wanted to get involved with helping young girls. While a police officer, she volunteered with the New Haven Police Athletic League and then moved onto an assistant coaching position at Wilbur Cross High School.
“And then I did a year of freshman at Foran and the head coaching opportunity opened up,” she said.
Johnson played her high school volleyball at Foran and considered coaching the Lions her other dream job. So 10 years ago she went for it, even though she was seven months pregnant.
“I wanted to take the opportunity because sometimes these coaching jobs get filled and I didn’t want someone to take it and have it for the next 30 years,” she said.
Johnson got the job, but was knee deep into her other job, had a child on the way and another young daughter. She worked midnight shifts, coached her team and with the help of Herb raised her family.
“I seized my moment,” she said.
And having Herb around helped.
“For two and a half months (Herb) was picking up the kids every day,” she said. “He’d do all that and was making arrangements.”
Meanwhile, Julie was getting used to the graveyard shift.
“Honestly, that’s the best,” she said. “It doesn’t interfere at all. You just have to figure out when you’re going to sleep.”
Julie Johnson was excelling in law enforcement. She went from midnight patrol to being head of the special investigative unit. On the court, her teams were solid and she began coaching her daughter, Sage Esposito.
Johnson was able to watch her daughter earn selection as New Haven Register Female Athlete of the Year for the 2010-11 school year. Esposito finished her senior season with 445 assists, 151 digs, 69 aces and 68 kills. She was also a three-time All-Area pick.
Johnson’s teams have gone to the state quarterfinals five times and lost in the 2013 final. She said coaching a team is a lot like police work.
“I Really Take It to Heart”
Before Johnson became coach of Foran, saw her daughter become Athlete of the Year and go on to play volleyball at UConn, she helped young girls at New Haven PAL.
“Some of the things we see going on in New Haven with young women,” she said, “I thought this was a great opportunity for me to get involved with young women at an age where they need role models and women role models.”
Although she’s coaching in Milford now, leading the Lions, she still feels the same way.
“I do a lot of life lessons,” Johnson said, “along with volleyball.”
Hunt said Johnson talked to the team about the dangers of social media and she heard her coach loud and clear.
“I really take it to heart,” Hunt said.
Hunt said in addition to helping the team off the court, Johnson’s knowledge of the game has aided them on it, too. She said her game and confidence improved since she started playing for Johnson.
“She always explains every detail of every drill in practice and everything we go through,” the senior said. “She takes the time out of her schedule to make sure that we all understand what we’re doing.”
And finding the patience needed can sometimes be challenging, especially after a long day at her other job.
“Sometimes I have to pull back with the girls,” Johnson said. “I have to remember that they’re teenage girls.”
Johnson’s done a good job of it, according to Herb. He said he wished he had his wife’s level of patience. He said they talk about work from time to time, and try to squeeze in some time for themselves.
Julie Johnson holds her practices at night and takes the day off if needed to coach her team’s games. She admitted that it is hard to miss out on time with her youngest daughter and her son, but said she can still be their role model.
“The benefits of them coming to the games, watching me coach and seeing my investment in my community, reaps the rewards,” she said.