KINGSBURG, Calif. (KSEE) – The valley has already said goodbye to some legendary sports figures this year. On Wednesday, another icon was lost as Rafer Johnson passed away at the age of 86.
Johnson’s impact was felt way beyond the valley and, frankly, way beyond the world of sports. However, he never forgot about his roots in Kingsburg, California.
Before going onto Olympic fame, Johnson starred in four sports at Kingsburg High School.
He averaged nine yards per carry in football.
He scored 17 points per game in basketball.
He hit over .500 in baseball.
In track & field? He was good at everything! And that is why he ended up becoming a two-time state champion in the decathlon in 1953 and 1954.
Johnson embraced Kingsburg, and Kingsburg loved him back. A junior high school in the city is named after him, as well as the track at Kingsburg High School.
“I really don’t know if there is a community that’s been as impacted by a single individual, as much as Rafer has had on Kingsburg,” said Doug Davis, former athletic director at Kingsburg High School. “Through friendships, through the quality of the individual, through the accomplishments, through his family…still resonating in this community today.”
“He just set the bar pretty high for people to try to achieve, and it just left people with a good impression of him and Kingsburg with the type of person he was,” agreed Dave Dodson, a former track & field coach at Sanger High School.
Dodson’s dad, Murl, is the one who coached Rafer Johnson in high school. And he is the person Johnson credits with giving him his introduction to the decathlon.
While at Kingsburg High School, Rafer Johnson was also the Vikings’ student body president. Dodson said Johnson used to do homework at his competitions, in-between running and jumping.
Kingsburg still holds an annual track & field meet called the “Rafer Johnson Invitational.” Davis told Sports Central that Johnson was not only in attendance, but he would hand out medals to the athletes.