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Late State Trooper’s Memory Lives On Through Basketball

  • Cpt. Roger Farmer a member of the Vermont State Police team looks to pass during the Mike Johnson memorial scholarship benefit game in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 29, 2018. His teammate Trp. Jacob Fox is on the left. Members of the Oxbow alumni team Reilly Johnson, left, and Matthew Thomson were on defense. Vermont State Troopers from the Bradford/ St. Johnsbury barracks Sean Brennan, left,Tyler Davidson, and Luke Rodzel watch the game. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Members of the Oxbow alumni team Reilly Johnson, left, Mick Johnson, Lincoln Ilsley and Grady Johnson go over strategy with their coach Jake Bielecki, middle, before the start of their game on Dec. 29, 2018, in Bradford. The alumni team was playing Vermont State Police officers for a fund raiser for the Mike Johnson Memorial scholarship. Johnson a Sgt. with the Vermont State Police was killed in 2003 when he was struck by a vehicle that was fleeing police. Mick, Reilly and Grady are Micheal Jonhson's children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Members of the Oxbow alumni team gather before the start of the Mike Johnson memorial scholarship benefit game in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 29, 2018. They were playing members of the Vermont State Police. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont State Police Tpr. Charlotte Hartman looks to pass the with Oxbow alumni Anthony Giesing, left, and Matthew Thomson closing in on her during their game in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 29, 2018. The team were competing in the Mike Johnson memorial scholarship benefit game. Johnson a Vermont Police Sergeant was killed on duty in 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Grady Johnson, Mick Johnson, Reilly Johnson, Alex Giesing, and Lincoln Ilsley cheer on their team during the Mike Johnson memorial scholarship benefit game in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 29, 2018. They were playing the members of the Vermont State Police. Grady, Mick, and Reilly are the children of Vermont State Police Sgt. Mike Johnson who was killed on duty in 2003. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Bradford, Vt. — Michael Johnson always had a passion for basketball.

 

Soon after the beloved husband, father and Vermont State Police sergeant died in the line of duty in 2003, a scholarship for Oxbow High School graduates was established in his name. The scholarship was funded by an annual middle school basketball tournament for more than a decade, but that event was shuttered last year to make way for something new: The Mike Johnson Memorial Scholarship Benefit Game.

 

The first event, staged about a year ago, was built around Olympians home games. with all gate proceeds going to the scholarship fund. This year’s installment, held on Saturday afternoon at Mona Garone Gymnasium, featured the Oxbow boys playing Rivendell (JV and varsity) before an alumni team took the floor to face off against a squad comprised of Vermont State Police personnel.

 

Lt. Matt Amadon, who suited up on Saturday, sits on the scholarship committee.

 

“We just talked about, ‘What can we do to promote the scholarship fund? ’ ” Amadon said. “(We’re) trying to keep it simple. This is a good way to draw people’s attention toward Mike and the legacy he left here. The community still supports him. His memory has been lasting for years here. … I put out the email indicating what we were trying to accomplish and everyone here volunteered to participate.”

The new format has proven to be a positive development, according to Sonya Grant, of the Oxbow Boosters. Grant said more money was raised by last year’s single-day event than had been collected from the weeklong middle school tournament in February. Tournament attendance was slowly declining thanks to other competing tournaments in the region and the penchant for some families to leave town during school vacation.

 

While typical high school games not affiliated with the scholarship fund net around $1,000, Saturday’s event raised north of $2,300, according to Grant.

 

At least 14 VSP members wore uniform green T-shirts, while 17 or more alumni players were clad in yellow.

 

Johnson’s three children — Reilly, Grady and Mick — were in the starting five for the home team, which ultimately prevailed, 76-71, after leading by 10 at the half. The alumni squad was made up almost entirely of players who graduated within the last decade. One was Ben Emerson (Class of 2018), who left at intermission to be on time for his evening practice at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.

 

At least two alumni team members — Mikayla Hodge and Alex Giesing — were past recipients of the scholarship, which is given to a graduating senior who plans to pursue a career in the public relations field.

Reilly Johnson, a member of the Oxbow girls championship team of 2012 and a Dartmouth College graduate, was home for the holidays from New York City.

 

“It means a lot,” Johnson said of Saturday’s sizable turnout. “There’s a lot of energy behind it, starting a few months ago when my mom (Kerrie) first brought the idea up to me. My brothers were really excited. My brother, Mickey, got on Facebook and there was a ton of interest immediately in the event, and it means a lot to have all the state troopers turn out for it as well. I think it’s a really nice way to memorialize my dad.”

Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days blared during warm-ups, and Michael Johnson had plenty in high school, including 1,375 total points and a career-high 43 on March 3, 1981. Johnson played as a freshman at Stevens High in Claremont, suited up for Oxbow as a sophomore, then transferred to BFA-St. Albans for his final two years.

 

Another person who helped coordinate the logistics of Saturday’s event was Steve Carson, the Olympians’ boys varsity basketball coach.

“I remember watching (Michael Johnson) play when I was a grade-schooler sitting up in those bleachers,” Carson said. “We called him Magic Johnson because that was about the time (the L.A. Lakers hall of famer) was probably a rookie or something. I just remember he was a fierce competitor and a tremendous player.”

Carson, in his fifth year at Oxbow’s helm, lamented the fact that Johnson, who was named as the Olympians’ coach shortly before his passing, never got to assume the position he aspired to after a stint at Whitcomb High.

 

“Mike was supposed to take over the Oxbow boys program,” Carson said. “And I can’t imagine what this program would have been like if he could have been the coach.”

Michael Johnson’s legacy extended beyond the hardwood and his small business, Magic Mike’s DJ Service. He was a respected VSP sergeant/patrol commander and the auxiliary supervisor at the Bradford Barracks, where Doug Dresser was one of his reports.

 

Dresser, a certified part-time officer, was dispatched primarily on snowmobile and motorboat patrols and once to a Phish concert. He rode with Johnson in police vehicles on multiple occasions.

 

“It was a well-oiled machine up there in Bradford,” Dresser said. “We were all treated the same. (Johnson) was very family oriented; people-oriented. He was a nice guy. … He was well-liked, did his job and he got taken away too quick.”

Correction

Michael Johnson began his high school playing career as a freshman at Stevens High School in Claremont. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where Johnson first played.