STORY BY: PAUL WAGNER
PHOTO GALLERY BY: JESSE ASZMAN
It should have been about the rivalry or even the standings in the Mt. Hood Conference or even the possible playoff implications but to everyone in attendance the game was about Barlow head coach Tom Johnson getting his 500th career win, as the Bruins defeated the Gresham Gophers 65-47 Friday night at Sam Barlow High School.
With the Bruins leading by as much as 20 points late in the fourth quarter students began passing out signs that simply read “500” and everyone in the building knew that this was the night the beloved coach would get the historic win.
“I am pretty humble by the support the students have shown, I didn’t think it was that big of deal,” said Johnson.
For the players and everyone else it was a big deal. After failing to get Johnson the win on Tuesday, losing to David Douglas 64-50, the Bruins would not let this one get away and finished off the Gophers behind a 27 point fourth quarter. Senior Duncan Otis led the way with 17 points and fellow senior Kody Kennedy added 16.
“His humility is sincere it’s not an act he really is humbled by it and a little embarrassed by it but I think he understands its pretty good accomplishment because it means he has done something for a really long time and has done it really well,” said assistant coach Gene Saling.
Johnson became the 12th coach in Oregon high school boys basketball history to reach 500 wins and is one of five active coaches to have reached 500 for his career. Johnson, who has been coaching for 30 years, started at Lebanon High School during the 1983-84 season and has spent the last 27 years at Barlow.
The road to 500 wins was not easy for Johnson who at the end of last season noticed a lump on his neck. Johnson went to a physician the following Monday and by Wednesday he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Johnson, a non-smoker, started two months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in April but the tumor remained so in August it was surgically removed.
Johnson was on a feeding tube and lost 40 pounds, dropping to 140 but two weeks ago during his six month checkup he received word that he is cancer free and has regained strength and has gotten his weight back up to 165. Johnson can barely speak above whisper because the radiation and surgery damaged his vocal cords but is seeing a specialist hoping they can do some things to make it better.
“I am extremely humble about the outpour of support I have had the last nine months,” said Johnson. “I am very thankful that I am still coaching and the group of kids I have this year. It’s been a great time here as a coach.”
During his treatment and recovery Johnson never missed a day of coaching and last week returned to the classroom teaching American writers and English.
The win was special at least for the students defeating rival Gresham during “Beardown Week” at Barlow High School.
“Not really because he just wanted to get it done with it didn’t really matter who it was against I think for the kids it might have been but for the players and coaches it didn’t,” said Saling.
“No it doesn’t. I have such respect for their kids and their coaches. I am glad it’s Friday night and we had a lot of kids here,” said Johnson.
After the game Barlow athletic director Terry Hanson in front of students, family, friends and former players presented Johnson with a plaque honoring his career achievement.
With the win Barlow improves to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the Mt. Hood Conference while Gresham drops to 13-7 overall and 3-4 in the conference. Next up for Barlow is a home game against Mt. Hood Conference leading Central Catholic. Gresham will travel to Centennial to face the Eagles.