Wilson NCAC player of year; Reed coach of year
From Staff Reports

    FAIRMONT — Fairmont Senior’s Jennifer Wilson has been named North Central Athletic Conference girls basketball player of the year, it was announced today.
    The 6-foot senior center averaged 19 points, 8.7 rebounds, two steals and 1.9 blocks for Fairmont Senior.
Also, Fairmont Senior’s David Reed has been named the league’s girls basketball coach of the year.
    Reed guided Fairmont Senior to a 14-0 record in the NCAC, plus a 20-4 record overall. Fairmont Senior’s season ended with a loss to Morgantown in the Class AAA, Region III championship game.
    Two other Fairmont Senior players join Wilson on the all-league first team: Sophomore point guard Ashly Reed and sophomore forward Christin Black. Reed averaged 16 points and 6.7 assists, while Black averaged 11.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
    Morgantown’s Darci Taafe, Katie Rushford and Kristen Yester were the other first-teamers. Taafe, a senior guard, averaged 11.3 points, while Rushford, also a senior guard, averaged 10.1 points. Senior point guard Kristen Yester averaged 5.6 points. Wilson and Taafe are repeat first-team selections.
    Named to the second team: University’s Kristin Thomas, Christina Richards and Courtney Strawser; Buckhannon-Upshur’s Kate Dobberstein and Cara Lemons; East Fairmont’s Bevin VanGilder; Elkins’ Jackie Lewis; Lewis County’s Chrissy Richards; and North Marion’s Becky Brown.
     Honorable mention: East Fairmont’s Heather VanGilder; Elkins’ Erin Bartlett; Lewis County’s Jill Garrett; and North Marion’s Erica Glance.

Bridgeport edges Lewis
    BRIDGEPORT — Tommy Joyce earned singles and doubles victories to help Bridgeport top Lewis County 4-3 in high school tennis on Friday, while the BHS girls lost 6-1. Joyce won his singles match 8-0 before join ing with Jeremy Crawford for an 8-4 doubles victory.
    Alexandria Marino earned the only girls win in the No. 2 singles match.
Prep track

    Fairmont Senior’s girls track team scored 128 points to win the St. Joseph Track and Field Invitational at Parkersburg High School.
    Kelley Moran finished first in the 400-  and 800-meter runs to lead Doddridge County which finished second with 86 points.
    Tyler Consolidated’s Mandi Weece took high point honors with 23? points with wins in the 100 and 200 meter dash. Doddridge County’s Lisa Davis won the pole vault, while Missy Spangler finished second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600 for RC.  Doddridge County returns to action Tuesday when it’s home for a 4 p.m. meet.

The odyssey:Tossed some curves, Johnson hangs tough
1993 Harrison Athlete of Year’s battle for college degree heading for happy ending
by Joedy McCreary
    PHILIPPI — Don Johnson thought it was all over for his son, Mike, when it came to the opportunity for a college degree and the chance for one last heyday on the baseball diamond.
    Here was 17-year-old Mike — a three-sport star at South Harrison and perhaps the best high school athlete in Harrison County at the time — who probably could’ve played baseball at any college in the state. Instead, he decided after his graduation to get a job and move to, of all places, Raleigh, N.C.
    But in the end, baseball saved Mike Johnson’s education. Baseball saved Mike Johnson’s future. Baseball saved Mike Johnson.
    One last season on Bridgeport’s American Legion team brought him back to Harrison County. The chance to play again sent him on an ill-fated journey to Garrett County, Md., Junior College.
    And an offer from since-retired baseball coach Jack Funk at Alderson-Broaddus did more than give Mike one last shot on the playing field: It rescued his future, enabling him to earn a college degree.
    “I just can’t express my feelings that he’s going to graduate from college,” Don Johnson said. “I never thought I’d see the day — May 8, graduation day from A-B.”
You can say this about Johnson’s soon-to-be-earned degree: It’s been a long time coming.
    In the spring of 1993, Mike Johnson’s future was bright. He had just graduated from South Harrison, where he was the school’s starting fullback on the Hawks’ undefeated team and helped the basketball team reach the regional finals.
    Oh, yeah, and his SHHS baseball team — for which he was the starting shortstop — won 20 games for the first time in school history.
    But Mike, the 1993 Harrison County Athlete of the Year, didn’t have athletics in his immediate future; he opted not to take the ACT, an admissions exam required by West Virginia colleges.
    Instead, he planned to take a year off from school and move to Raleigh with his older brother Chris, an experienced welder.
    The decision didn’t sit well with Dad. “I was kind of against that," Don said. “And I expressed feelings of that."
For Mike, snagging a job —not just snagging the baseball —became priority No. 1.
“I just wanted to go to work somewhere," Mike said. “And my brother said I could work for a while on my year off."
Don Johnson prayed his son would reconsider, that he would come back to the game he loved.
    “At that time, when someone receives some high awards, you hope he lives up to expectations,"Don said.
Not to worry, Don. In the back of Mike’s mind — and all the way down to the bottom of his heart — there was baseball. Always baseball.
    They say baseball is a metaphor for life. You start and finish at home, leaving for a short while but always hopeful to return.
    Such is the case with Mike Johnson, who returned to Harrison County in the summer of 1994 to play for Bridgeport’s American Legion team. Along the way, he decided to enroll that fall at Garrett County Junior College in Maryland.
“I just hoped to play there for two years,"Johnson said.
Then, disaster struck.
    Mononucleosis, the “kissing disease," turned into the kiss of death, it seemed, for Johnson’s baseball career.
All of a sudden, baseball wasn’t a priority anymore. Never mind lacing up his baseball cleats again, Don Johnson told Mike.
Just heal, son. Just heal. “Mike’s never been a real big fellow,"Don said. “When he became ill, I was just concerned about his health. That was the only thing. It’s a slow process to get back to the best of your abilities."
    Mike took a medical withdrawal from Garrett County JUCO and enrolled at Fairmont State for the spring of 1995, “just wanting to get back to school," Mike said.
    At the same time, an old friend, Frank Blake, told A-B coach Jack Funk about Mike and his travails. And Funk, who had wanted Johnson to play for him after his South Harrison days, offered him a partial scholarship and a spot on A-B’s baseball team.
    “He always wanted to come to A-B, even before he graduated from high school," Funk said. “He can run like a deer and he has a real good arm. I was tickled to death that he wanted to come to A-B, and he’s been loyal to A-B."
    After Mike earned the 24 credit hours at Fairmont State necessary to transfer to A-B, he became a Battler. “I was about to give up baseball," Johnson said. “But coach talked to me and he got my hopes up."
And with them, the hopes of his father.
    “What I felt ... after him being out of high school for two years, I was more or less surprised," Don said. “(Coach Funk) had made him an offer, and I was just tickled to death."
    Mike Johnson arrived in Philippi in the spring of 1996 with the rust that comes with not playing in nearly two years.
“I hadn’t fielded grounders in two years," Mike said. “Plus, with hitting and seeing the ball, my timing was off and I couldn’t pick up off-speed pitches."
    The difference between high school and college baseball is great, to be sure. Factor in a two-year sabbatical, and the gap becomes exponential.
    “It’s tough to go from high school to college," Mike said. “The pitchers are tougher, they throw harder, everybody runs harder and hitters one through nine can hit the baseball. It’s total night and day."
    So much, in fact, that Mike admittedly struggled during his first two seasons as A-B’s shortstop. He had too much self-inflicted pressure, pummeling himself mentally after each throwing error or misplayed grounder.
    That’s when it was time for another change: From shortstop to center field. “Coach and I were talking and we decided it might be better if I moved to the outfield," Mike said. “I felt I wasn’t getting back as well as I should’ve been."
    The move paid off: Mike hit .367 in 1998 and as the only senior on this year’s A-B team is the team leader.
Academically, Mike Johnson has gotten back better than ever. He is carrying a 3.2 gradepoint average, according to his father, and will graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy.
    Not surprisingly, Mike is basking in these last few weeks of college, his father says. And why not? After all, to a familiar spot on a baseball field, to the warm spotlight that comes with glory that’s legitimized by hard work, Mike Johnson has come home again.


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