‘Tinnie’ Johnson leaves lasting legacy

Former West High baseball coach “Tinnie” Johnson, shown here at the 2005 West High reunion, will be remembered for the impact he had on players’ lives.   - Courtesy photo
Former West High baseball coach “Tinnie” Johnson, shown here at the 2005 West High reunion, will be remembered for the impact he had on players’ lives.
— image credit: Courtesy photo



Standing 6’ 3”, former West High School baseball coach Orville E. Johnson could be quite an imposing figure, but those who knew him affectionately referred to him as simply “Tinnie.”

Johnson, 94, died on Jan. 20, 2008, but the legacy he leaves behind extends far beyond the chalked lines on the diamond he loved so much.

Born on July 25, 1913, Johnson was part of Tacoma’s Stadium High School’s 1931 state championship basketball team before continuing his hoops career at Washington State University, where he played on the 1937 team that lost the Pacific Coast title to Stanford.

After two years at Clarkston High School, Johnson travelled north to Bremerton in 1941, where he served as an assistant under legendary Bremerton basketball coach Ken Wills.

In 1950, Johnson finally got his head coaching job as he took over the West High baseball team. Three years later his players brought home the state championship, posting an almost unblemished 29-1 record.

In 1963 Johnson became the West High athletic director until his retirement in 1975.

Semancik Foundation director Lane Dowell met Johnson in 1968 when Dowell arrived at the school as teacher and a coach.

“Tinnie was a very fair and a do-it-by-the-book type of teacher/administrator,” Dowell recalled fondly. “There was no star system in his manual of how to handle kids.”

During Dowell’s fourth period class one of his duties was serving as a hall monitor, where he worked closely with Johnson, who was one of the school’s vice principals at the time.

“At 6’3” he cut an imposing figure as he moved about the hallways,” Dowell said. “He seemed to know the ‘trouble spots’ and was on them before they manifested.”

As an athletic director and man, Johnson believed in a strong fiscal policy, Dowell recalled.

“However he was not above sticking $5 in the pocket of a young teacher/coach when it was a long way until the next payday,” he said.

One of Johnson’s many pastimes was playing horse for a quarter, Dowell said.

“I thought I was a pretty good shot but could never beat him,” Dowell said. “He had an over the backboard shot that he just never missed ... amazing.”

Johnson’s legacy is in the way he related to youngsters,” Dowell said.

“He was mentioned, a believer in equal treatment for all. Rules were/are cast in stone for all to obey. He believed in a strong work ethic as a pathway to success,” Dowell said. “If you outhustle your opponent, you have a good shot at success. By employing this philosophy he drew admiration and respect from his students/athletes.”

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