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Keeler: Johnson left mark on state sports

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Many readers may have seen an obituary on the front page of the sports section last week for Marshall Johnson. Many readers probably didn't know who Marshall was, or have any idea how much he's meant to high school sports in the state of Virginia, but I do.

I didn't know Marshall as well as many others, but he definitely made a lasting impression.

The first time I met him was at an all-state meeting. I had heard about Marshall, but still wasn't prepared for just how knowledgeable he was about high school sports.

I introduced myself and told him what paper I was from, and he immediately knew of our paper -- he knew much more than that. He told me all about our great high school coverage. He knew all about our local athletes, how all the teams had performed that season. I was blown away, but hadn't seen anything yet.

Once the meeting started, Marshall was the one who had all the information on every school that didn't have a regular daily newspaper to cover it. He took the time each year, before the meeting, to e-mail every coach that didn't have a daily newspaper to cover them to find out their players' stats.

The biggest thing that stood out to me about Marshall at the meetings was how much he cared about the athletes. He wanted to make sure we got the right athletes selected and that everyone had a fair chance, no matter where they lived.

Marshall worked for the Associated Press for 34 years, but he always loved high school sports. So after retiring in 1983, he began researching the state's history of football and basketball programs all the way back to nearly 1900.

Each year Marshall would send out records in football and basketball. He always had the overall football individual records, which are the same ones the VHSL uses, and the coaching records for both sports as well.

Also each week he would go to the AP office and read the sports sections of every newspaper to keep up with what was going on around the state in high school sports.
Whenever we would do an AP prep poll for either football or basketball, Marshall is the one who would supply the bulk of the information.

He was one of the charter members inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and he was also among the charter class of media inducted into the VHSL Hall of Fame.
The VHSL also gives out the Marshall Johnson Sportsmanship Award to a team in each of the VHSL's six classifications during its state basketball tournament each year.

That brings up another memory for me of Marshall. He was always a fixture at the basketball tournaments at VCU. After each state final is over things get pretty chaotic, as they're giving out awards and the teams are celebrating. Usually the press has to wait until they bring the players in for a press conference to talk to them, but somehow Marshall would always manage to get out on the floor and do a quick interview so he could write something up for the AP.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to Marshall during the basketball state tournament and he told me he had to leave shortly. His wife, Shirley, who passed away before he did, was in a nursing home at the time and he made sure to go visit with her daily. Of course, I wasn't surprised by him leaving -- everyone knows family comes first. However, I remember thinking how great it was that he still took the time to make sure he was at the basketball games for at least a little while. Then again, to Marshall high school sports were a big part of his life, and I think he considered the many athletes in the VHSL to be like family as well.

I've been lucky enough to meet many people in this business over the years, and I respect Marshall as much as anyone I've met.

Marshall may be gone, but I, for one, will never forget all of the things he did for high school sports in the state of Virginia and who he was as a person.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com


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