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KINGSBURG - When Rafer Johnson arrived to the Kingsburg High gym on Sunday, the former olympian received a standing ovation.

Johnson was emotionally overwhelmed by the applause.

“It’s like coming home to family,” the 1960 Olympic gold medalist said.

The town’s most iconic athlete, who graduated from Kingsburg High in 1954, was one of 10 inductees for the inaugural class of the Kingsburg Athletic Hall of Fame.

When Johnson was introduced to the podium by Kingsburg athletics director Thom Sembritzki, everyone in the ceremony gave the decorated athlete another standing ovation. Everyone would remain standing until Johnson’s speech was done.

“I couldn’t have been more privileged to be raised in a community such as Kingsburg,” Johnson said during his speech.

Before winning a gold medal in the decathlon in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Johnson was a four-sport athlete as a Viking. Johnson played football, basketball, and baseball along with being a track athlete.

Johnson was also a silver medalist as a decathlete in the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia. He relieved his glory days in 1984 by lighting the Olympic torch for the Summer Games in Los Angeles.

When Johnson graduated from Kingsburg High, he continued his athletic career at UCLA where he continued to excelled on the track.

During his time as a student-athlete at UCLA, Johnson played on the men’s basketball team under John Wooden during the 1959-60 season. He was also drafted as a running back by the Los Angeles Rams in the 28th round of the 1959 NFL Draft.

“He’s a special person, not because he was an Olympic gold medalist, but for everything that he has done,” Sembritzki said. “When you look at all the things that he’s done in his life it’s incredible.”

Johnson was one of four inductees in attendance in the ceremony. The other inductees were in attendance were Robert Contreras, Dan Jackson and Jake Woods.

Rafer’s brother Jimmy Johnson (class of 1957), Monte Clark (1955), Stan Anderson (1929), Todd Steele (1982), Melissa Price (1992), and Tyler Bray (2010) were the other inductees in the school’s inaugural class. Anderson, Price, and Bray each had a representative at the ceremony.

Anderson (class of 1929) was already inducted the Fresno County Athletics Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Johnson was a cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers and played with the franchise for his entire 16-year career. He was also a multi-sport athlete at Kingsburg High.

Clark was a former NFL player and head coach for the 49ers and Detroit Lions. Clark coached the 49ers in 1976 and the Lions in 1978-84. He was also on the sideline as an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins during the Don Shula era in 1970-75. 

Anderson and Clark were posthumously inducted on Sunday. 

Contreras (class of 1974) was the school’s first CIF State wrestling champion and Jackson (1997) is the second to accomplish the achievement. The two former state champions are currently the only male wrestlers from Kingsburg to win a CIF title.

Steele (class of 1982) is a former NFL player and Woods (1999) is a former major leaguer who played baseball for the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners. Woods is currently an assistant coach for the varsity baseball team at Kingsburg.

Price (Class of 1992) was an NCAA pole vault champion at Fresno State and Bray, who graduated in 2010, currently plays for the Chicago Bears.

“There have been a number of athletes before Rafer Johnson and after Rafer Johnson and it continues today,” Rafer said about Kingsburg High implementing the athletics hall of fame. “I applaud them. They made contributions as well and I just became one of the athletes that made a contribution to what the coaches and teachers were trying to present.”

Sembritzki said the school deserved to have an athletic hall of fame to commemorate Kingsburg’s history of “rich tradition of athletic excellence.”

“There was no hall of fame and I was like ‘How does that happen,’” Sembritzki said. “We probably have the greatest athlete [Rafer Johnson] who ever walked the earth from our high school.”

Sembritzki said implementing the hall of fame was a process that took five years. The inception of the hall of fame included raising money through the athletic department's foundation.

According to Sembritzki, the plan is to have the ceremony become an annual event.

“There are a few people that are deserving to be here and they’ll be here next year,” Sembritzki said.

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Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at 559-583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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