Goldsboro's Jerry Johnson inducted into NCHSAA Athletics Hall of Fame
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 7, 2011 1:50 AM
The brown envelope stayed untouched on the kitchen counter.
"I'll get it to soon," thought Jerry Johnson.
Two days later, the return address finally caught Johnson's eye. In the upper left-hand corner, in bright orange and blue lettering, the sender was identified as Davis Whitfield, commissioner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Johnson unclasped the envelope and pulled out the material.
"Oh my gracious, what is this?" Johnson said.
The first piece of paper certainly caught him by surprise. Davis wrote it was a privilege to congratulate Johnson on his enshrinement into the Association's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Johnson is the first-ever Goldsboro resident to receive such recognition, and is the second official/umpire from Wayne County to reach that pinnacle in his career. Ricky Crumpler was inducted into the N.C. American Legion Hall of Fame as an umpire in 2010.
"I'm wondering how I'll feel when it actually comes to pass," said Johnson. "As far as officiating, that's the greatest honor I've ever had. It's an awesome feeling."
Johnson is among eight individuals who have been selected for induction next spring. The group also includes Rosalie Bardin, Sheila Boles, Jimmy Fleming, John Frye, Mike Matheson, John Morris and WRAL sports personality Tom Suiter. Matheson and Morris are posthumous inductions. The 26th class will be recognized at the 27th annual NCHSAA Day on Sept. 10 during halftime of the North Carolina-Rutgers game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
"These individuals joining the Association Hall of Fame this year have had a tremendous impact on high school athletics across North Carolina," said Whitfield. "Their accomplishments are impressive, but the character they exemplify and the lives they touched are truly representative of what the NCHSAA stands for. Their selection maintains the standards of excellence established by our previous inductees, and we are proud to honor these deserving individuals."
Johnson, ironically, never considered officiating.
A nearly four-decade veteran of his profession, he spent two years taking engineering classes at N.C. A&T State University. Johnson grew unsatisfied with his career path and switched to education.
In 1974, Johnson started his teaching career as a physical education instructor at Goldsboro Middle School, which is now Dillard. Friends in the officiating community eventually coaxed Johnson into attending a game.
And once Johnson officiated his first contest, he was hooked.
It's been a perfect -- and bumpy -- marriage, since.
Johnson's contributions to his profession have been enormous and mind-boggling. He's called more than 6,000 games on the high school and collegiate scenes in baseball, basketball and football combined. That includes eight NCHSAA championships -- five in baseball, two in football and one in women's basketball. He's also either been behind the plate or in the field for 22 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association baseball tournaments, and served as an umpire during the 2008 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional hosted by Mount Olive College.
"I've had no thoughts of retiring, but I'm sure there are some coaches who have wanted me to," joked Johnson. "I really love being around kids and have heard people say, which I do believe, that it keeps you young by working around young people.
"Without the kids, you don't need coaches and umpires."
Johnson expresses that message and experiences about his career when he speaks at coaching and officiating clinics. He also does the same when breaking in either a new referee or umpire. Johnson teaches that punctuality, patience, knowledge of the rules and understanding how to talk with coaches is crucial.
All those elements -- and more -- help build an umpire's reputation in a positive fashion contends Johnson.
"It's a shame that youth and wisdom don't go together, but at 30 years old, I didn't feel like that," laughed Johnson. "One of the most-challenging parts of it is whenever there is a controversy you, as the umpire or official, depending on the sport, being able to maintain your composure when all things around you are breaking down.
"All of us have different personalities. Ninety-nine percent of the time you have to remember that what happens between the coach and you is not personal."
Johnson stopped officiating basketball in 2001 when he had prostate surgery. Although he needs just five games to reach 1,800 on the hardwood, he's put his heart soul into football and baseball.
An engineering degree might have bolstered Johnson's income and pushed him into a higher tax bracket. But the wealth of friendships and relationships he's developed as an umpire holds more value.
"That's the greatest riches I have," said Johnson. "I am blessed."
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