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Johnson leaves Post 17ers to take over for Jones at Sumter Post 15

Posted: December 17, 2011 12:06 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2011 5:00 a.m.

For the second time in as many years, the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion baseball program is in the process of searching for a new head coach for the Senior American Legion team.

Last week, Curtis Johnson resigned as the KC skipper to accept the head coaching position for Sumter Post 15.

Johnson, a Sumter native and a former P-15 standout, returns home to take the seat inside the dugout which was held down by Wallie Jones for the past 25 seasons. During his tenure, Jones led Post 15 to nine state and a pair of Southeastern Regional titles. He amassed a 637-187 record as the program’s head coach, a spot he took over from his father.

Johnson, a former University of South Carolina relief pitcher who is the head baseball coach at Crestwood High School, was named as head coach of the KC American Legion team last winter. In his one season at the Post 17 helm, he led the locals to a 17-13 record and a second-place finish (behind Sumter) in League III play. After beating the Lowcountry Heat in five games in the first round of the state playoffs, KC fell to Goose Creek in four games in round two. KC lost in its bid to advance to the state tournament with a setback against visiting Manning-Santee in a one-game play-in contest.

When news of Jones’ retirement became public in the fall, Johnson’s name was one of the first which came up when the names of possible successors came up. Post 15 officials confirmed Johnson as their new head coach last week.

Johnson said he will take fond memories with him from his brief, but winning, tenure in Kershaw County.

"Being in Camden was an unbelievable experience for me," he said. "The guys (his players) were great and the coaches in the area Coach (Randy) Stokes, Coach (Denny) Beckley and Coach (Robbie) Cash (from Lugoff-Elgin, Camden and North Central high schools, respectively) were unbelievable.

"I’m going to remember (P-17 athletic director) Mr. (Jimmy) Rabon and the other Legionnaires, Craig Smith (coach of the P-17 Junior Legion team), Jeremy Ray, Scott (Kirkley) and everyone else. I made some really good and long lasting friends this past summer."

When it came to members of his team, Johnson said he could not have asked to have worked with a better group of young men.

"There are certain players that you coach who are going to have a special place within you and I had that in Camden," he said. "Will Dorton and Jake Ansley are the two who come to mind, immediately. Those are the two kids that I’m still close with, right now.

"It was a good experience and it was a lot of fun. It was also a lot of good baseball."

For Johnson, the chance to coach a team for which he played was too good of an opportunity to let pass. That was the main reason for his deciding to pursue the Sumter post.

"It’s a new chapter in my life," he said. "It’s a chance to go back home and coach the P-15s, where I spent five years and won a state championship. It will be something special."

A few days after being tabbed as the head coach by the Sumter American Legion baseball committee, Johnson was still riding high.

"It’s a huge deal for me. I’m super excited about it," he said.

"It’s a chance to work with kids from my area and, Sumter usually puts out a lot of good baseball players. Most of the best baseball players in this town run through the (P-15) program. It’s a chance to make a difference in a kid’s life that has a chance to play baseball for awhile."

In taking over for Jones, Johnson inherits a hot seat in succeeding one of the winningest coaches in the country in a town in which American Legion baseball rules the roost.

"Anytime you come into a new situation there is going to be pressure and at Sumter, there’s pressure to win," Johnson said.

"I’m different than Wallie, though. Coach Jones did things a certain way. He’s a great coach and a great person; I’m going to do things the way I think they should be done and do it as hard as I can.

"If I can do things the way they should be done and to the best of my ability, then we’ll have a good shot to win a lot of games and be very successful here."

Barring any unforeseen changes to the schedule and/or league realignment, Sumter and Post 17 will play each other twice in the League III regular season in 2012.

Johnson said he is already looking forward to those contests and getting to see familiar faces both on and off the field.

"It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be bittersweet because I care for a lot of people in that (Kershaw County) community. I’m going to know a lot of people who are going to be on that (P-17) team next season," he said

"Those four games when we play Camden will be marked on my calendar and I’ll be excited when we play them."

 

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