Will Johnson: Once a professor, always a fan

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
William Johnson is pioneering a new adage in his retirement years: You can take the professor out of the classroom, but it’s pretty darn hard to keep him away from the gymnasium.

A chemistry professor at Tabor College for 33 years and an administrator there for two, Johnson retired in 1982. But his association with Bluejay athletics is stronger than ever.

He attended games during his faculty tenure at Tabor, but Johnson said he frequents the games even more now that he’s a professor emeritus.

“To me, it’s one of my social outlets,” Johnson said. “Rather than sitting (at home) watching the television, I go to the games.”

He lives these days in a Park Village duplex. Georgina, his wife of almost 50 years, died in 1994. He has two grown children.

Johnson estimated he’s seen well over 500 Tabor basketball games in his life, but he still looks forward to the excitement he finds there.

Johnson was active in several sports during his days in high school. The knowledge he gained then contributed to his interest now in Tabor athletics. In addition to basketball, Johnson said he enjoys attending volleyball, baseball and softball games.

For a number of years, Johnson’s seat was behind the scorers table, where he volunteered as the official scorekeeper.

Johnson is a member of an elite group known as the “Gray Jays.” The membership requirements are to be a retired Tabor faculty member, and on Social Security.

When it comes to basketball, Johnson is an equal-opportunity fan. He said he is as happy to watch the Bluejay women play as he is the men.

“They’re totally different though,” he said of the games. “The men are more run-and-shoot. The women play their offense fairly well.”

Johnson said he likes what women’s coach Rusty Allen has done with the program in his first two years.

“Coach Allen is a good coach,” Johnson said.

“I’ve heard of people who come to Tabor just to play for (men’s) coach (Don) Brubacher.” he added. “But that’s going to be true of Rusty Allen, too.”

Johnson likes the way Allen communicates with his players.

“You never hear Coach Allen yell at his players, like some other teams’ coaches do.”

Johnson has seen a lot of coaches and a lot of teams come and go during his tenure.

“Through the years, our women’s team has improved greatly,” Johnson said. “We’ve had some winning seasons, and some great players. But as a whole, women’s basketball is improving a great deal.

“When you have a good coach and a winning team-and we have both-that attracts athletes,” he said.

Johnson said it’s the excitement that keeps him coming back to the games-and it extends beyond the action on the court.

“I like the pep band and the students,” he said. “I like the atmosphere. Tabor has a good pep band, and that adds a lot to the game.”

Through the years, basketball has changed, Johnson said.

“The games are much more intense now. The people are much more athletic and much faster.”

Although Johnson has seen numerous athletes pass through the halls and hardwoods of Tabor, he declined to specify a favorite.

“There’s been so many that it just wouldn’t be fair to do that,” he said.

Adhering to the U.S. Postal Service motto, Johnson doesn’t let foul weather detour him from his appointed rounds.

“The weather would have to be pretty bad for me not to go (to a game),” he said with a smile. “I’d have to be sick in bed or something for me not to attend.”

As much as he enjoys athletics, Johnson said he doesn’t allow the game to be bigger than life itself.

“I tend to enjoy the game and leave it at that,” he said. “I don’t want athletics to dominate my life or always be in my thought.”

He also admitted there are aspects of the game he doesn’t like. Unruly behavior on and off the court tops the list.

“I didn’t care for the conflict that arose at the Sterling game (earlier this season),” he said. “I didn’t enjoy that at all. It spoiled the game for me.”

The quality of the officiating in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference is another concern.

“I think the refereeing could be improved,” Johnson said. “This is a result of the demand of the game.

“Look at all the games there are, and how many referees it takes,” he said. “You’re got to believe that some of them are novices, some are inexperienced, and some are not of high quality.”

Johnson enjoys attending athletic events, but he has other interests, too.

“I do some writing,” he said.

In fact, he is a published author, and is looking forward to the publication of his latest work-a history of his local church.

In the meantime, you can catch William Johnson circulating in the Tabor gymnasium, wearing his familiar blue “Tabor Bluejay” sweatshirt and visiting with numerous friends.

You might say it’s his own home-court advantage.

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