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Class Act

Lavish ceremonies are not foreign to Craig Johnson.

The last time we saw the former South Medford and Coast Guard Academy basketball great, it was during the inauguration as he escorted first lady Michelle Obama down White House steps as nimbly as if he were working for position in the paint.

Another ceremony, the Medford Sports Hall of Fame, is next on his schedule, and while it won’t feature quite as much pomp or global viewership, it will, of its own merit, be memorable.

“It’ll be more special,” said Johnson, one of 11 inductees in the 2017 class, “because I’ll have all my family and friends there.”

The induction banquet is Saturday at Rogue Valley Country Club. New members are selected every five years, and this group brings to 157 the total number of inductees.

Johnson is going in as an athlete with Stephanie Adams (softball), Jeff Barry (baseball), Missy Coe-Doerr (softball), Ryan Fiegi (basketball), Rob Folsom (multisport), Sam Pecktol (powerlifting) and Bryn Ritchie (soccer).

Coach Bill Rowan (track and field) and contributors Gary Miller (baseball) and Jim Wise (golf) round out the class.

Johnson, 31 and a 2004 graduate of South Medford, is a lieutenant in the Coast Guard and operated as one of that service branch’s White House social aides for more than a year while stationed in Washington.

He transferred to San Francisco within the past two months, one of a number of his ports of call.

Along the way, he’s always played basketball at a high level: all-state at South Medford, the Coast Guard Academy’s all-time leading scorer, a recurring member of all-armed forces teams for international competition.

That his exploits would warrant induction into the Hall of Fame surprised him.

“I never really thought of that as an option for me,” said Johnson. “It’s quite an honor. With so many athletes coming out of Medford, to be considered was really special. It’s a good feeling.”

During his travels, he’s been an assistant coach for various high school teams, and that’s given him an appreciation for the level of coaching and community commitment in Medford.

“Most towns don’t have even close to those kinds of opportunities,” he said.

Opportunity has continued to knock throughout his career, and it reached a zenith with his appointment to work the inauguration in January.

Johnson doesn’t know why he was selected as Mrs. Obama’s escort. He, like representatives from the other branches, worked more than 50 White House events. Whenever guests are expected — state dinners, Medal of Honor presentations, holiday events, bill signings — aides are called in to interact with attendees or serve as escorts.

For the inauguration, he was at the door as guests came out to the podium area, and Johnson received ample television time. He was close behind President Donald Trump as he gave his acceptance speech.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Johnson led Mrs. Obama by the arm up the steps, through the White House and to the south lawn, where the president’s helicopter, Marine One, awaited.

A photo shows the two of them sharing a laugh, which, Johnson said, belied the atmosphere following a “very unique inauguration.”

“After the ceremony, the air felt thick on the walk through the Capitol,” he said. “Mrs. Obama was (as) kind and sincere as ever.”

The inauguration was “certainly the most memorable and exciting” White House event he worked, said Johnson, noting the inclusion of so many dignitaries, particularly past presidents.

“To be able to walk that last bit,” he said, “and see the interaction between President Trump and President Obama, and their families, and taking that last walk with them was something I’ll never forget, certainly.”

After graduating from high school, Johnson’s travels took him to Connecticut for the academy, then to South Carolina, San Francisco, Washington and back to the Bay Area.

In three years in D.C., he was the maritime security response program manager, overseeing 10 units and more than 800 personnel charged with anti-terrorism and port security.

Vessels entering port are screened and sometimes boarded.

Those duties as a “gun and vest” operator have given way to supervisory responsibilities in San Francisco, he said. He’s also now getting involved in search and rescue.

“I really enjoy it,” said Johnson. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a really rewarding job.”

It was hardly a surprise that he gravitated to the water.

Johnson was born in Huntington Beach, California, played water polo as a youth and worked as a lifeguard.

“The maritime environment has an allure that I can’t seem to avoid,” he said.

He found time for basketball, of course.

At South Medford, he led the Panthers to fourth place at the Class 4A state tournament and a school-record 27 wins against two losses. He played 46 minutes in a four-overtime, 74-69 victory over Oregon City to secure the trophy, scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

South Medford entered the tournament ranked No. 1.

“At the time, we were really thinking we should have won it,” he said. “Getting fourth wasn’t what we were hoping for. But just being part of that team was special. I never realized most teams don’t win that much.”

Dennis Murphy, Johnson’s coach with the Panthers, remembers a tough kid who refused to shy away from a challenge. During the title game of a tournament in Red Bluff, California, the 6-foot-4 Johnson held his own against two opponents who were 6-10 and 6-9 and headed to Division I colleges.

“He was very non-assuming, very mild-mannered,” said Murphy, “but a tremendous competitor and very, very tough. He played with what I call a lunch-bucket attitude. He put his hard hat on and went out there.”

Johnson provided leadership through action.

In that epic fourth-place game against Oregon City, Johnson made two free throws at the end of the second overtime to extend it.

Said Murphy: “He walked right over and said, ‘You didn’t think I was going to let us lose this, did you?”

At the Coast Guard Academy, in New London, Connecticut, Johnson made an immediate impact despite his slight frame.

He was a four-year starter and a three-time all-conference performer.

He did it there like he did it at South Medford.

“Generally,” he said, “I’ve always been a little undersized, but it never really was a disadvantage for me. I played pretty aggressively and attacked the basket. I got a lot of free throws and second shots. It was nothing pretty. When you can’t run, jump or shoot, you have to rely on other tactics.”

He finished the academy with several career records that still stand: points (1,715), field goals made (627) and free throws made (472). He’s No. 2 in field goal percentage (57.9) and scoring average (16.7).

As a senior, he averaged 20.7 points per game, No. 2 all-time.

After college, Johnson was chosen to play for the U.S. in an annual tournament with NATO allies. He started at power forward and helped bring home a title for the first time in a decade.

With his transfer to San Francisco, Johnson has curtailed playing basketball to focus on work.

When he was growing up, coaches told him the things he learned in sports — leadership, doing your best, looking out for teammates — would serve him well in life.

“Oh wow,” he said, “they were right on the money.”

***

2017 HALL INDUCTEES

Stephanie Adams

Softball

Helped North Medford to state titles in 1997 and ‘98, playing in record 122 games and setting career mark with 124 RBIs. Set season batting average record at .568. Chosen first-team all-region and was All-American scholar athlete. Started four years at Oregon State, which was ranked in the top 20 and made postseason all four seasons. Is now a firefighter in Portland.

Jeff Barry

Baseball

Was all-state in football (quarterback) and baseball (outfielder) for Medford High as a junior and South Medford High as a senior. Three-time All-American in baseball at San Diego State, drafted in fourth round of major league draft by Montreal. Played 13 pro seasons, including three in majors. Hit .268 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 74 games for Colorado in 1999.

Missy Coe-Doerr

Softball

At North Medford, was first-team all-state three years, including as a freshman, and a two-time All-American, helping the Black Tornado to two state titles and a runner-up. Is in top 10 in 13 of 19 career offensive categories and holds triples record of 24. Went to Oregon and was first-team all-Pac-10 as a freshman catcher, setting or tying school marks for batting average (.362), runs (68), hits (79) and total bases (178). Second-team all-Pac-10 as a sophomore and junior, and holds career doubles record. 

Ryan Fiegi

Basketball

Played variety of sports as a youth and in high school but found his niche in basketball and excelled. After initially attending Western Oregon, he transferred to Oregon Tech and led the Owls to the 2008 NAIA Division II title while being named national player of the year. He averaged 20.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and led the team in blocked shots and steals.

Rob Folsom

Multisport

Starred at North Medford in football, wrestling, baseball. He won three district wrestling titles and was a state finalist as a junior and senior. Was all-state on both sides of ball in football, as a running back and linebacker. Was two-time first-team all-stater in baseball, then went to Oregon State, playing in 2005 College World Series. Was second-team all-Pac10.

Sam Pecktol

Powerlifting

Has competed 37 years and, despite five operations, has claimed 18 world championships. Set nine world records in the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters, AAU and the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation. Is Oregon State chairman for U.S. Powerlifting Association and a certified international judge. Received Bill Pearl Community Award for work with kids.

Bryn Ritchie

Soccer

Started four years at South Medford, leading Panthers to national ranking for three years and the state championship his senior year, when he was state player of the year. Went to perennial power Washington and started four years. Named Pac-10 freshman of year. Was All-American as junior and played two seasons for the Portland Timbers before knee injury ended career.

Bill Rowan

Track and Field

The lone coach in the class, guided Mazama track for four years. Coached South Medford track for 19 years and cross country for 13. Panther girls won state in 1998 and were second in ‘97. They won four conference crowns, while the boys won six. Named Class 4A state track coach of the year in ‘99. In cross country, boys and girls each captured three conference crowns.

Gary Miller

Baseball

One of two special contributors in the class, served 25 years as Medford Youth Baseball Society president, leading the charge for improvements to Miles Field and development of Harry & David Field. Raised more than $2 million for enhancements to Miles Field. Medford Chamber’s first citizen in 2010, SOSC advocate of the year in ‘15 and SOU distinguished alumni in ‘16.

Jim Wise

Golf

Also a special contributor, he lettered in golf at Medford High, Southern Oregon and Oregon State. After 5½ years as a Navy aviator, began a 40-year career as pro at Rogue Valley Country Club. Became Class A PGA member in 1976. Represents Pacific Northwest rules committee in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Ran Southern Oregon Golf Championships for 40 years.

— Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com

At North Medford, was first-team all-state three years, including as a freshman, and a two-time All-American, helping the Black Tornado to two state titles and a runner-up. Is in top 10 in 13 of 19 career offensive categories and holds career triples record of 24. Went to Oregon and was first-team all-Pac-10 as a freshman catcher, setting or tying school marks for batting average (.362), runs (68), hits (79) and total bases (178). Second-team all-Pac-10 as a sophomore and junior, and holds career doubles record. 

Craig Johnson is the all-time leading scorer for the Coast Guard Academy. [PHOTO FROM THE COAST GUARD ACADEMY]
Former South Medford basketball standout Craig Johnson, right, now a lieutenant in the Coast Guard, escorts Michelle Obama down White House steps during the inauguration. Johnson is entering the Medford Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. [PHOTO FROM CRAIG JOHNSON]