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Chipola, Donovan honor famed Coach Johnson

With less than a minute on the clock, Robert Trammel found himself in position to be hero or goat the third time that Coach Milton Johnson took a Chipola College basketball team to the juco championship tournament.

All he had to do was follow Johnson's instructions to be a hero.

"He called a play where we overplayed everybody and the man with the ball put a lot of pressure on the man bringing it," said Trammel now a Tallahassee attorney and former state representative. "I happened to be the man that was defending the man that was going to get the lobbed pass.

"I was in the right place at the right time," said Trammel, who snagged the ball and took it to down court for the winning basket.

Chipola didn't win the national title at that tournament more than four decades ago, but the game has become part of Johnson's legacy that hundreds of Chipola fans celebrated Thursday night. They jammed into the Jackson County Agriculture Center to pay tribute to Johnson, whom University of Florida coach Billy Donovan called "an icon."

"When I talk about Chipola, every coach in America knows Chipola and that's because of Coach Johnson," said Donovan, the keynote speaker during the Night of Champions ceremony. "In Gainesville, I follow this program. I admire what has been happening here for a long, long time."

Johnson developed such a reputation for winning and not long after he retired in 1993, the Panhandle Conference championship trophy was named in his honor. Chipola also named its basketball arena for the 79-year-old Johnson.

Thursday's ceremony was the latest of many held for Johnson even before he retired. In 1990, he was induction into the Florida Community College Hall of Fame. He also was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1993.

Johnson dedicated the evening's ceremony to his wife, Evelyn, who died earlier this summer. They've been married for more than 50 years, going back to when Johnson coached at Campbellton High School, where he won three state titles. During one stretch, he coached his team to 55 consecutive victories.

He credited his wife and his players for his success. Johnson retired with more than 800 victories on the college and high school levels.

"This room is filled with my basketball players," he said. "I don't know if I deserve this honor; they earned it."

Chipola's national champion baseball and softball teams also were recognized during the three-hour event. Chipola also won state titles in men's and women's basketball and the coaches of both teams were among those who heaped praise on Johnson via video.

Some of Johnson former employees cited his patience in making Chipola into a nation junior college power.

"He made it as simple as he could," said Gordon Wells, a former women's basketball coach under Johnson, who also was athletic director. "It was things that a new worker could be uptight about but he made it easy."

Wells remembers Johnson being an administrator that was particular about every basic detail - down to equipment purchase. Johnson was just as passionate about the finer points of the game, said Trammell.

"Coach Johnson had the whole package," he said. "He was an X and O man; a basketball strategist way ahead of his time. But probably the thing that distinguished him most was the way he handled himself. His class and integrity was as good as it gets."


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