VALE – Once the Oregon high school basketball season reopens, the girls of the Vale Vikings will take to the practice floor minus a familiar face. Since 2003, the Viks have been led by Coach Jason Johnson-this year, a new face will lead the team.
“This was not an easy decision for me, but it was just time,” said Johnson. “Leaving coaching is where my family is at right now, where I am at also. Coaching has just become a little much for me at this point in my life.”
Johnson steps away from coaching after compiling a record of 310-152. His success includes three state championships (2011, 2012, 2014).
Recent fans of Johnson and the Lady Vikings will recall his run at the state titles and his tremendous success in the Eastern Oregon League. Older fans and Johnson recall the lean years early in Johnson’s career.
“I think the first year, we won five games,” Johnson recalled. “The learning process was on me. I had to learn how to break things down and show the girls what I wanted. I knew what I wanted to do, but it took a few years for me to figure out how coach that to a team.”
As the years progressed, the wins climbed with the Lady Vikings continually vying for the Eastern Oregon League title.
“I have been very fortunate to always have hard working, tough players,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed the coaching, the game, the kids and the parents.”
Like any 3A team, many years proved hard work made up for a lack of a shooting point guard or size under the basket for Vale. During Johnson’s tenure, the Viks became known for the team’s defensive efforts.
“We couldn’t always control the shot, but we could control the effort,” said Johnson. “I always wanted us to be the hardest working team on the floor every night.”
Johnson exits the team after finishing 19-9 last season and a trip to the state tournament. After taking a playoff game against Oregon Episcopal, Vale dropped a quarterfinal matchup versus Sutherlin. The Vikings wrapped up the tournament with wins against Pleasant Hill and Willamina. With five seniors returning this season, Johnson was excited for a season yet to start. Included in the five seniors is Johnson’s daughter, Emersyn.
“I think we had the team to be very competitive at the state tournament this season,” Johnson said. “I really feel bad for my daughter losing out her senior year.”
The questions of if and when a season would take place this year also was a factor in Johnson’s decision to give up his coaching duties at this time.
“Definitely, the way the state, the OSAA and the OHA handled COVID had an impact on the decision,” he explained. “Sports are there to serve the kids, be a positive in their life. All that has now been taken away.”
With Johnson stepping away, the question becomes who will lead the Lady Vikings?
“We will be opening the position in the near future,” said Vale Athletic Director Tom Snook. “We are very thankful for the job that Jason has done both as a successful coach, but also as a role model. He has taught our students how to be successful on and off the court. His presence will be greatly missed at Vale High School.”