Entering the final weeks of his eight-year tenure as Adna’s athletic director and 21st year as football coach, KC Johnson couldn’t help but stare up at the walls of the Pirates’ home gym, featuring dozens of teams immortalized in Adna lore.
The Pirates’ athletic success long predated Johnson’s tenure along state Route 6, but in over two decades with Johnson as a part of Adna’s athletic department, the Pirates painted 70 teams across its varsity sports onto those white walls in the gym.
Johnson racked up 163 wins as head football coach at Adna, picking up a state championship in 2009 and consistently competing with the state’s best on the big stage.
But the chance to return where it all began and start up a new challenge in Raymond was just too big of an opportunity to pass up for Johnson, a kid raised on Raymond football in the 1970s. Though Johnson is leaving coaching and the gridiron for the Raymond School District’s superintendent position, his love for football and coaching can be traced all the way back to those Raymond squads.
Johnson was a ball boy for the Seagulls back when they won three straight state championships in the mid-70s, and most of his family still lives on the coast.
“My first experience with school as a kid was being the proudest Raymond kid in kindergarten in 1970,” he said. “Now I have an opportunity to come back and walk those same halls. How many people can say that? I’ve been accepted back with open arms and have had a ton of support. There were a lot of people's names that I recognized to welcome me from those football teams.”
Despite the opportunity, Johnson said he had many sleepless nights contemplating leaving another place that was near and dear to his heart. It wasn’t as easy as packing up and leaving after 21 years in Adna.
“It’s been the toughest decision of my life,” Johnson said. “I absolutely love the kids here and the staff. Real tough decision. But it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that makes way too much sense.
“I told the kids here, I never would’ve left Adna to be an AD or coach and coach against you. I’m leaving an amazing group of upcoming talent and kids. We know that we’re going to get better and better every year here for a long time.”
Johnson’s first lament, he admitted, was not hitting a personal milestone. The longtime coach wanted to crack 200 wins as a coach and came up a few seasons short of his goal. Johnson took over a proud program that had not made the state playoffs in a few years, and had last reached the mountaintop in 1989.
Before Johnson even stepped foot on to Adna’s campus, as a longtime Southwest Washington stalwart, he had goals of taking the Pirates to championship contenders, and 200 wins before he hung up his cap.
Though he didn’t reach his goal, Johnson is proud of the consistent strength of Adna’s football program.
“The consistency at a small school was incredible,” he said. “I stayed here because of this community. The consistency is what I’m most proud of football-wise. To put a quality product and a top-10 level program every year, that’s hard to do. That’s the dedication of this community and the parents. They aren’t afraid to work and run and lift and buy in to what it takes to be good every year.”
And while the wins were nice and the trophies were memorable, what made the decision the toughest for Johnson was leaving a community — parents, kids, and coaches — that he loved.
Outside the football field, Johnson’s dealings with other sports, his many coaches and colleagues over the last two decades, and every parent and dedicated student made an otherwise exhausting job easier.
“This place lives and breathes athletics, they always have,” Johnson said. “We all take a lot of pride in it. We’re competing for championships every year. We’ve assembled some of the best coaches anywhere in the state. It’s a good place. Now I’m going to put my focus on going back and helping Raymond.”
On that challenge, Johnson said that taking over as Raymond’s superintendent will be a completely different and “bizarre” role for him.
An administrator that would much rather be walking the halls and being active in the community, Johnson said the skills and hats he wore as AD at Adna will only serve him in Raymond.
Whether it was coaching football, being the dean of students, or navigating Adna through the COVID-19 pandemic as its main point of contact these past couple of years — on top of everything being an athletic director entails — Johnson said if he could do all that, he might be able to surprise himself putting all of his energy into just one job at Raymond.
It will be strange for Johnson when September rolls around, when shoulder pads begin to crash into each other as 2B football teams in the area beat up on each other for state supremacy. For the first time in most of his life, Johnson won’t be strolling the sidelines as a coach or competing as a player.
And while Johnson has been around football his entire life, whether as a ball boy for Raymond, a high school student at Toledo, an assistant at Toutle Lake, Zillah, and various other schools, he’ll never forget the home he found in Adna.
When Johnson stared back up at those walls in Adna’s gym, reminiscing about the unforgettable moments and kids he coached, the state championships and trophies across all sports, and all the people he met while donning the blue and white, he couldn’t help but tear up.
“A big thank you to everyone,” Johnson said. “Especially in this community. It’s always been a challenge to live up to expectations out here. But I’ve relished every minute of it. It’s made me a better person. That’s really it. It’s emotional, I love the place.
“It has been an amazing ride.”