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Beyond The Gym Floor

Beyond The Gym Floor—Marquell Johnson

Jamie O'Connor, a Teaching Associate Professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, speaks with Dr. Marquell Johnson, a Professor and Director of Rehabilitation Science in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: All right. Welcome to Beyond the Gym Floor. Today, we are joined by someone who's a former colleague, DR. Marquell Johnson of the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. And you know, look-- he's an award winning educator, advocate for individuals with disabilities, scholar, and most importantly, an award winning friend.

With that said, Dr. Johnson, thank you for joining me on Beyond the Gym Floor. So let's dive in. I know you are busy changing lives, so I certainly don't want to waste your time with this silly show. So first of all, where did you grow up?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: So, I am from, originally, Montgomery, Alabama. I also spent time in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, as well, growing up as a kid. My first 11 years of my life were pretty cool. I was a military brat, nine of those spent over in Germany.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very cool. So what led you to physical education?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: So during my second semester of my freshman year, I had an opportunity to do a disability sport program with kids with disabilities. And prior to that volunteer experience, I was, believe it or not-- and I don't share this with a lot of people-- but I was a math and business major, interested in being a civil engineer.

But I enjoyed myself so much, working with kids with disabilities, so I pursued a kinesiology major. And then I did not decide on physical education until my sophomore year, after doing various shadowing experiences, and OTPT, therapeutic recreation. And I was just, what profession would give me the best opportunity to work with as many kids-- and especially kids with disabilities-- as possible? And so that led me to physical education.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very cool. And where was your teacher training?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: So, my undergrad is from Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama-- a small, private liberal arts school. My master's degree in adaptive Physical Education, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. And then my PhD in movement studies and disabilities, Oregon State University-- go Bees.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Nice. So, OK-- so tell me a little bit about the PRIDE program that you began in Eau Claire.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: All right. So yeah, that's great question, Dr. O'Connor. So, I was brought to UW Eau Claire to provide service learning opportunities for our students, specifically in the realm of clinical population, disability population. So I started the PRIDE program-- Physical Activity and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities in Eau Claire area. Long thing, thank god for acronyms, right?

And so the PRIDE program provides physical activity and sport opportunities to about-- we're up to 47 kids. I started with four, 12 years ago. We're up to 47 kids now. And we have physical education majors as well as rehabilitation science majors, undergraduate students, paired 1 to 1, 2 to 1, depending on the severity of the child. And we have fun.

Now in a time of COVID, which is kind of interesting, we had to stop the program in the spring. But this semester, we're going to try, we are doing PRIDE out on the field, outside. Because usually, it takes place in three of the gymnasiums on our upper camp campus, and we empty out the physical education closet. And we have fun for an hour.

So it's been a good experience. A lot of our students, especially our physical education students, they utilize a lot of these examples, working with students with disabilities, as they're applying for jobs. But also, they say the experience really alleviates some of the anxiety that they feel, going into pre-service and student teaching experiences.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No doubt. I mean, I remember having conversations with some of those undergraduates before and after their experience with you in PRIDE, where their anxiety about enrolling in your course. Then, by the end of that experience, wanting to go on to seek a master's degree in adaptive physical education. So I think you're doing some good work, there.

But what would you change about adaptive Physical Education if you could?


DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah, so you know, I think that's a great question. And as I go back and forth with the many students that come through our particular program, I think, for me, there's two things. I think, at the K12 level, I think it's the prioritization of adaptive physical education. Most of the time, our students who are going to become professionals, the hierarchy exists that you will get your caseload for physical education and health, and then APE is an afterthought. So the prioritization, in terms of meeting or needs.

And then the second piece, for me, is given, you know, I think the lack of resources, and sometimes willingness, of professionals to engage in APE. I would want to see a lot more collaboration among both our physical education professionals, our special education teaching professionals, but also those professionals who work on the related side, OTs and PTs, to ensure that the experience for our students with disabilities is the best. Because unfortunately, for a lot of our students with disabilities, the school setting is really the only opportunity they will have to engage in any form of physical activity or movement development.

So really, those are probably two things that I would want to see changed.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you. And so, working with the students in PRIDE, over the past 12 years, you know, what's the most important lesson your students have taught you?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. You know, I build upon that initial experience, my second year-- my second semester of my freshman year. The reason I wanted to do something with students with disabilities after that second semester of my freshman year, I had never felt the way I felt, volunteering in that program. I was able to genuinely be myself. And every child with a disability that I interacted with in that program, they were their selves.

And if you think about it, in our everyday interactions, we're really not able to be our authentic selves. And so, for me, I've been able to craft a career, up until this point-- and especially now, since I've been at Eau Claire-- that for at least three days a week, I'm able to be my authentic self. And I'm able to be around individuals with disabilities who are their authentic self. And it's somewhat therapeutic, and mutually beneficial.

And so, that's really kind of the piece for me, that keeps me going. To be honest with you, I don't think if I was not able to do PRIDE, I probably would not, actually, still be teaching. But that's a whole other conversation.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I appreciate that. So how do you, then, try to reach your students, especially those kids who are coming to PRIDE, maybe for the first time, and have never had someone care about their movement experiences before?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. You know, it's one of those things where I think the challenge-- and especially for educators, if we think about the diverse group of students that we interact with on a daily basis. But I think the most powerful thing for, I think, young professionals to try to master, as well as continue to work on, is how do you convey, or project, authentic intentions? What are your intentions?

And I think, as it pertains to physical education, our intention is that we're wanting individuals to enjoy what they're doing. But we're also wanting to create an environment that everyone finds success in doing an activity. And that's, for students with disabilities, that's the idea of finding enjoyment, so you match that with energy level. But also, a level of creativity that individuals will find success in doing an activity.

And that's kind of my attempts at actually reaching students, is that I bring sufficient energy. I project a level of authenticity. But also, the planning that goes into the activities. That I'm ensuring, based on ability level, that all students will be successful.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Any advice you would share with this current cohort of Illinois undergrads who are thinking about a career in PE and/or APE?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. You know, I think with the young adults these days, I think the recurring thing that I talk about, that. I don't see, unfortunately, is why are you passionate about doing what you're doing? I think some students have other things, reasons why. But you have to have you have to be passionate about what you're doing.

Because if you're not passionate, when you are confronted with obstacles-- and there will be many, you know. I think education, these days, is not the most desirable professional track to take, so you will be confronted with many. Why are you passionate about doing that? And if you haven't found why you're passionate, take the time to find an element of this profession that you're passionate about, to allow you to overcome those difficult times.

And really, it's just finding passion. And for me, my passion is working, and being able to provide opportunities, for individuals with disabilities. I am passionate about that. That passion allows me to maintain, and overcome all the other pitfalls, or obstacles that come in the way as it relates to education. Because, like I said, in this day and age it's pretty difficult. But it's also rewarding, especially if you're wanting to be impactful of the lives of others. And that's what it comes down to.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And I know that your passion and enthusiasm is contagious. Because just interacting with those undergraduates in Wisconsin, without a doubt, they left that experience feeling enthusiastic about adaptive physical education when previously they were, perhaps, a little bit anxious about taking that on.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Well, I think you're a little bit-- I think you're a little way too kind.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No I'm not. No I'm not.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: I think really-- yeah. Yeah. I think that's the friendship part of our relationship coming out right now.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I am telling you the truth. You're definitely making a difference.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I know you've been in education for a long time, but do you have a teaching highlight that comes to mind?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. A teaching highlight. Yeah. For me, most recently what comes to mind, a former student, I think that both of us are aware of. Earlier on in her physical education career, she approached me and said she was interested in, really, just doing adaptive physical education. And that student kept the same interest throughout, graduated, and then went on to pursue a master's degree in adaptive physical education from SUNY Brockport.

And yeah, just recently, not only is she on the marriage train, but she has been doing some pretty great things at a school specifically for a student with disabilities in Upper New York. And you know, when you think about, potentially, the impact. And you know, and her thankful, kind of address on her Facebook page, you know, I got a mention. So you know, I think that was pretty cool. And then the parents followed up with a thank you, too, of seeing that growth.

And so for me, you know, that's that level of impactfulness that you know, you hope that you potentially could make. And so you know, that-- yeah. I think that's kind of one of the highlights.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You are definitely making a difference, without a doubt. And don't laugh-- you are. Now, look, we're going to get silly here for a minute. You are not a Champagne Urbana hometown legend, I am a Champagne Urbana hometown legend. But many of your former students listen to this podcast, believe it or not, and they need to know a few things about you. What do you listen to in the car?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. So my playlist right now-- so my playlist right now, Spotify. I'm, right now I'm doing a lot of Drake, Scotts, Toby and Ukwe. For some odd reason, I still can't explain it, but the last Juice Wrld album, to me, is actually pretty cool. And then you know, I have to give love to J. Cole North Carolina, straight up.

You know, I'm trying to see what else. I like some Sia. You know, I'm always-- I'm a Sia fan for some odd reason. Yeah. That's really-- Anderson.Paak. I actually have him. That new Nas album. Even though, you know, these days and age, these people only putting out like a 45 minute album, and it's kind of like depressing. But that new Nas album is pretty good.

But yeah, that's kind of what I have on my playlist. I'm trying to think. Yeah. That's about it. Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So, favorite-- what's your favorite snack right now? Your favorite go-to?

I mean, are you still doing like the granola and the yogurt thing?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: No. Unfortunately-- pre-COVID I was really handling everything well. Now, though, for me, it's Festival Foods brand oatmeal cookies. So it's kind of-- I hate to put that out there, you know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You're literally snacking on generic grocery store cookies right now?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. For some reason.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Things are not going well for you, emotionally, is what your're saying.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: No, they are not. I've been impacted by COVID-19. But pre-that, yeah, I was granola and oat. But yeah, so I'm doing that. And then I'm trying to-- what else have I ventured into? No, actually, it's that. It's pretty bad. So yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. It sounds like it. So, favorite toy as a Kid?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: You know, because I was a military brat, my first 11 years, I, at one point in time, I had over 112 GI Joe men. And so I was completely, I was in GI Joe guy, accessories and all. And I would set up GI Joe versus Cobra battles, like, all day. That was so me. So yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: First concert?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. I'll have to-- I won't technically say my first concert. But my first legitimate, like true artist concert, Jon Legend. Yeah, Jon Legend.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's cool.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. That was an unbelievable concert. Previous to that was, you know, really not for-- you know, not for podcast-worthy to talk about.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I understand. Yeah. We can leave it at that. So, when you are settling down in the evening, what do you watch? What do you watch-- either shows, or what's your go-to?

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. You know, given that sports are started, usually it's sports. But to be honest with you, given the political and social right now, I'm a MSNBC, C-SPAN. And then, believe it or not, the BBC has some great showing. And then the public broadcast news. That's kind of really where I-- you know, so if you give me Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, BBC, P-- you know, PBS-- I'm there, looking at that.

And probably not the best choice, if you're wanting to wind down. Because sometimes, I think you get a little bit worked up. But yeah, that's kind of what I'm doing right now. Or if I do no TV, I'm doing-- basically, I only look at Twitter when I get up in the morning, and then when I go to bed at night. So then I try to get 30 minutes of, did I miss anything provocative on social media?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you're a news junkie. So you're kind of a nerd. Yeah, we knew that.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK. So finally-- and actually, this one is just for you-- what is a pet peeve of yours? And the reason why I'm asking this right now is because yesterday I had to take my car to get a tire fixed. And the guy helping me drove my car approximately 20 feet from the garage-- or I'm sorry, from the lot to the garage. And when he was done, like, he had completely moved my seat and steering wheel. And I was filled with rage. Like, man, you had to drive my car for five seconds. Why did you rearrange all of my settings in my car?

So I just realized, that's a new pet peeve of mine. So what's one of yours? And I'm sure you have thousands.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah, actually, I do. And a lot of them, really, kind of personally, it's a battle that I'm having in my own household. So I'll tell one, on a personal level. A battle for me, and I'm not winning it, so far, with my two children and my wife because they view it differently. But so, one of my pet peeves is that you don't use the hand towel in the kitchen also as the hand towel to actually dry off the dishes that come out of the dishwasher.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Right. Not sanitary.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: No. Or the other way, where you know, the other personal one is, my wife and I, we've decided that we both need different hand towels. You don't use your hand towel in your bathroom to wipe the remnants of toothpaste from your mouth, but for it also to serve as drying your hands, as well. So that, to me--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very gross. That's gross, Erin.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: I literally-- I draw the line. I could keep going on, because there's the one about the individuals who feel like they have to check the ripeness of their fruit, at the grocery store, by actually squeezing it and smelling it.


DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: And if that one is not right, what do they do?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Put it right back.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. And so, literally, my wife and I, we cannot go shopping together. Because I actually have to comment to the individual that actually just put the fruit back, so you're really just putting that right back there?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's hilar-- yeah. Because you're definitely not afraid of confrontation.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I wouldn't be able to go to the store with you, either.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: Yeah. So you know, so Erin just walks away. But no, it's an honest conversation. So, you've literally squeezed this orange, where your fingerprints are still there, and then you smelled it. You've decided, now, you don't want that orange, so then you place it right back. Come on-- that is-- it's egregious.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's true. It is.

DR. MARQUELL JOHNSON:: I think it's egregious though. Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you. And I knew you would have several to share, and we could talk about pet peeves all day. But Dr. Johnson, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. And if you would like to be a guest, or simply have a comment, or a question, you can reach me, Jamie O'Connor, at Encourage your friends to listen and subscribe to the show, either through iTunes, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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