Johnson is true champion

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

I don’t want to hear about the New England Patriots or Janet Jackson. You can have your Tom Bradys and Bill Belichick and Super Bowl heroics.

Forget about Greg Gumble and Phil Simms and CBS, and Adam Vinatieri and last second field goals.

The best performance of the weekend was at the Pelham Civic Complex.

It all goes back to three years ago when Pelham wrestler Ben Johnson bulled through the competition, collecting more pins than a donkey’s backside at a 5-year-old birthday party.

Johnson had all the tools necessary to become a force on the mat &045; strength, smarts, technique and a motor that never stopped running.

So he storms through the regular season, lights it up at invitationals and qualifies for the state meet at the sectional tournament.

Ben finally meets his match at the championship, after all he’s just a sophomore, and winds up taking third place.

His only losses all year were to state champions.

Fans cheered. Coaches and competitors praised him for a job well done.

But third place didn’t sit to well with ol’ Ben.

See, Johnson didn’t seem to understand that sophomores were supposed to lose to two-time state champions. He wasn’t buying it.

So Johnson starts getting ready for a return trip his junior year.

He works hard to prepare and when the season finally rolls around, the competition lines up and he knocks ’em down like Paul Bunyan in a pine thicket.

Johnson’s doing his usual damage to the win-loss records of his foes but it just wasn’t good enough.

About a week before sectionals, Ben starts feeling a little more winded than usual.

He figures it’s gotta be that he’s out of shape. No, the grueling hours of wrestling practice and non-stop drills in a room heated to 85 degrees just weren’t doing the trick.

So he starts doing some extra conditioning.

After he runs the suicides and separators at the end of practice, Johnson heads down to a local club to run another three or four miles every day.

Turns out it wasn’t conditioning but bronchitis. Johnson found out in the hospital when his lungs started getting lazy after sectionals.

But that wasn’t going to stop him from making a run at the state championship.

Johnson returns to the state meet and works his way to the finals but by now his bronchitis has turned into full-blown pneumonia.

So while his opponent is fighting him out on the mat, inside Ben’s lungs are fighting him just the same.

The lack of oxygen just wouldn’t let him finish any of his moves, and he had to be carried off the mat as a runner-up in the 171-pound weight class.

Johnson traded a trip to the winner’s podium for a hospital bed at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, which was just as well because his rightful place was on the top step anyway.

By now, you can probably guess that Ben Johnson made it back to the 2004 state meet, his senior year.

And no, his motor never stopped running, even in the final seconds when he already had the lead.

Johnson finally won the state title that had eluded him the past few years on Saturday &045; the one that he deserved more than anybody &045; with a 5-2 win over Vestavia’s Tim Gaydosh in the 189-pound weight class.

What an amazing story and what an amazing athlete.

Ashley Vansant is the sports editor at the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at