STANFIELD — Wednesday was a bittersweet day for Bryan Johnson.
After 10 years of serving as an educator and baseball coach at Stanfield Secondary School, Johnson spent his final day at the school packing the remaining items from his office. He is moving back to his hometown of Ephrata, Washington to serve as the athletic director at Ephrata High School — the alma mater for he and his wife Katie — and his final day at Stanfield capped what has been a long several months.
“It’s been an emotional spring,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “I’m happy about getting a new job and having success with baseball, but we’re sad to be leaving because we’ve established a lot of great relationships with great students, staff, and community members.”
It was a very tough decision to leave the Stanfield school and the Eastern Oregon community, Johnson said, but the pull to head back home with a job he called a dream was too good to pass up.
“It wasn’t a snap decision by any means,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, Ephrata was a place we wanted to get back to, and having both sets of parents there and a job that’s the best fit possible for (myself) was what sold it.
“I wish I could have waited a year (with the players we have coming back) but the timing was bad.”
The 35-year-old Johnson served as the Athletic Director at Stanfield from 2007-2012 before moving into his position as Secondary School principal. He developed a passion for the position over that period of time, and he knew it was something we wanted to pursue full-time in the future.
He will have to put a hold on his high school coaching career as his administrative contract bars him from coaching at that level in Ephrata. But Johnson said he’s happy to have a little bit of a break from the everyday grind of coaching.
“I’m looking forward to a little more narrow focus,” he said. “Athletics and sports have been a passion of mine since I was a kid and now it’s my world, basically. (Athletic Director) was kind of my best fit learning over the years and something I really enjoyed doing so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Baseball has been in Johnson’s life for as long as he can remember. He was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play in college at the University of Washington and then spent two years as a minor leaguer in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization where he hit for a .233 average and compiled a .992 fielding percentage in 127 career games. But after calling it quits on playing, he knew his next step was to go back and finish his teaching degree and become a baseball coach.
He developed experience as an assistant coach at Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Washington for three years during his student teaching tenure there, spent time as a coach and counselor at TBI Baseball camps in Ephrata, and coached some summer league teams. But when he made the move to Stanfield it was Johnson’s first shot at running a program, and he made quite an impact.
Johnson compiled a 201-81 career record (.713 win percentage) in his 10 seasons as the Tigers baseball coach and led his teams to nine playoff appearances, five league titles, five district titles, four state Final Four appearances, and two state championships.
He broke the news of his impending departure to the Tigers team before the season began, but insisted that the focus not be on his final games but instead be on working hard, playing as a team, and reaching their goal of a state championship.
“I didn’t want this to be a Bryan Johnson going away party,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to have a good season, have fun and I think we did that.”
And indeed they did.
Stanfield set a school record with 29 wins on the year as they completely dominated their competition. The Tigers had the highest-scoring offense of any team in the state in 2016, and won those 29 games by an average score of 12-2.
But the icing on the cake was their 10-inning, 5-4 victory over Santiam Christian to claim the Class 3A state championship.
“It was a fairytale finish and I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Johnson said. “It was a great year with a great team and they have a lot coming back which made it hard to walk away from.”
Adding into the fanfare of the 2016 season, another personal milestone was reached when former Stanfield star Quin Grogan was selected in the 30th round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, becoming the first player coached by Johnson to make it to professional baseball.
“I’m really proud of Quin,” he said. “He worked hard to get there, he had to sit the bench a little bit at Lewis-Clark State but he stayed with it and is a great example for all Stanfield kids that just because you graduate from a small school doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams.”
When he looks back on his tenure at Stanfield, Johnson said he’ll remember the games, the victories, and the moments that made his 10 years enjoyable. But what will stay with him the most are the people he had the chance to meet and the bonds that were built with hundreds of kids on the baseball field.
In his coaching office at the Horyna Athletic Complex, Johnson had a team hat from each of the 10 seasons hung up on the wall in order. Each hat was designed slightly different from the others to allow Johnson to remember each individual team and the memories that came with it. He said the hats will be re-hung somewhere in his new home in Ephrata to remind him of it all.
In terms of a legacy, Johnson hopes to be remembered for more than just a baseball coach.
“I always wanted to do what was best for the kids in every field I handled,” he said. “I know it might sound cliche, but we’re trying to give kids at Stanfield the best experience possible academically, athletically, and socially.
“The wins are nice and state titles are great, but hopefully they don’t just remember me as a guy that won a lot of baseball games.”
Contact Eric Singer at email@example.com or (541) 966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.