Column: Kai Johnson excels in the no-spin zone

May 12—Mark Kessler, assistant track coach and head flag football coach at Glacier High, feels senior athlete Kai Johnson is ahead of her time.

Ten years in the future, he said, colleges would be lining up dozens deep to recruit someone with her talent. "She can throw the ball 65 yards," he said.

Johnson, the defending State AA girls shot put champion, is taking her talents to the University of Montana track and field program.

Flag football was a possibility — as it was for teammate Noah Fincher, who could have gone to Millegan University in Tennessee in the sport. Kessler sent Buffaloes coach Ryan Witten tape, and he liked Fincher enough to offer. Then Witten asked about the quarterback.

That was Johnson, who led the Pack to the first two state championships in flag football as an MHSA-sanctioned sport.

"It was so hard, because they're both so fun," she said Thursday, after competing in a dual meet against Columbia Falls on her home track. "I think I enjoy track a little bit more."

What she's done in the shot put circle is more amazing when you consider she never participated in middle school track. A softball player growing up and through her freshman year at Glacier, her first time throwing the disc or the shot was on April 1, 2022.

The sophomore got the disc to go all of 77 feet.

On Thursday, using the South Africa technique, she threw 126-2, a personal record. She also broke 40 feet in the shot for the fifth time this season.

"The South," as she called it, eliminates most of the spin you see accomplished discus throwers use. Likewise in the shot put ring, she "glides" — no spin.

"I'm not very good with my technique," she allows. "I try to do it in practice, and I'm so bad at it."

Jerry Records, the throwing coach at Glacier, marvels at what Johnson is able to do with so little experience or technique.

"She didn't take a weights class until this year," he noted. "Where she's at athletically — the sky is the limit."

Records, a teacher at Kalispell Middle School, had wanted Johnson out for track her freshman year. "I kind of put a bug in her ear," he said. "When she told me she was playing softball, I said, 'All right. When you're done with that, I have a place for you.' "

So do the Grizzlies. For a time Johnson was going to throw for Montana State in Bozeman. Then UM assistant John Kolb rang her up.

"(He) called and said, 'Hey, I'd like you to visit.' The visit turned into me committing," she said. "Honestly, not even related to (scholarship) money, I really did like the environment there. Coaches were awesome, the other athletes are awesome. I know one of them, Scout (Nadeau), she was at Bigfork."

It's certainly conceivable that at UM, she can master the spin and be a diamond in the ring. Glacier already had a generational talent in the throws in Aiden Krause, who is headed to North Dakota State. Now it just might be two.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 406-758-4463, or at