When Owen Johnson talks about the impact high school athletics can have on a student, he speaks from experience. Johnson has been involved in athletics at every level in Prince George's County. He has been an athlete, coach, physical education teacher and athletic director.

"Athletics have been very important in my life," said Johnson, who played basketball and baseball and ran track at Douglass High School before graduating in 1963.

"I was an average athlete, nothing special, but the experiences and people I got to interact with because of athletics had an impact on me," he said. "It was a reason to go to school and to have fun. I saw myself become involved. My ultimate goal after college was to teach [physical education] and coach.

"I taught for 22 years and loved it; I got to do my childhood dream."

Johnson, 54, still is involved with sports, but in a much different way. He is the supervisor of interscholastic athletics for Prince George's County, a position he has held since July 1997, and he helps make decisions that impact the athletes and coaches at the county's 20 public high schools.

Johnson's two-person office--Johnson and program coordinator Donna Roberts--works closely with the county's athletic directors and the representatives from 14 sports to set policy and ensure that the schools are in compliance with Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association regulations.

Johnson makes the schedules for the county games, coordinates buses to transport teams and, perhaps most importantly, finds a way to stretch the money that the county provides for athletics.

Over the summer, the Board of Education cut the athletics budget by 9 percent.

In the plan devised by Johnson, coaches took a pay cut and several assistant coaching positions were eliminated, but no sports were cut entirely from the county's program.

"We have dedicated and committed people here who perform miracles every day," Johnson said. "Our coaches beat the odds every day. I'm blessed to be surrounded by good people who work hard. We're safe because of people like that. The trick is to support them."

CAPTION: Owen Johnson, a three-sport athlete at Douglass ('63) and the supervisor of interscholastic athletics for Prince George's County, devised a plan that avoided eliminating individual sports in face of budget cutbacks.