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Johnson a Chief among students

Thu., June 4, 2009

CVHS senior balances hockey, homework

Work hard. Play hard.

Central Valley High School senior Tyler Johnson knows both. An academic achiever who also plays major junior hockey for the Spokane Chiefs, Johnson will be among the 405 seniors graduating Saturday from CVHS during a ceremony in a venue he’s very familiar with: the Spokane Arena.

This time, though, he’ll be leaving his skates behind, and when his name is announced over the loudspeaker it will be for achieving a different type of goal – his high school diploma.

Johnson has been an integral member of the Spokane Chiefs since 2007. He’s also the only team member from the Inland Northwest currently on the roster.

“Tyler is a kid who just knows where his responsibilities are, and no matter how busy he is, he gets them done extremely well. He is impressive that way,” said Central Valley High School counselor Larry Bernbaum.

“It’s always a big challenge (for athletes) to stay focused on school,” Bernbaum explained. “Yet Tyler won’t accept that road for himself.”

Johnson, for example, has maintained a 3.8 grade-point average, while fighting his way to the top of the Western Hockey League, earning Most Valuable Player in the league finals during the 2007-2008 season and helping lead the Chiefs to a Memorial Cup victory last year.

The six-day-a-week practice and game schedule through most of the academic year required the Liberty Lake teen to alter his school schedule. He was able to attend morning classes so he could meet the demands of a noon to 5 p.m. hockey practice. He completed his academic coursework by taking classes online through Brigham Young University, one of the colleges that offers a program designed for high school athletes.

“I’ve been skating since I was one and a half – my Mom taught me to skate,” says Johnson, the son of Debbie and Ken Johnson of Liberty Lake, who at one time had managed the now-closed Ice World. “The Chiefs practiced there and even let me skate with them.”

Hockey is in his blood. His dad and maternal grandfather played the sport.

And while he’s looking forward to a third season with the Chiefs, his academic pursuits remain a top priority.

“My parents taught me from a young age that school comes first before anything,” says Johnson, who’s planning to enroll in community college courses that could eventually steer him into nursing anesthesiology.

Educators and coaches agree: Johnson is example to others.

“First, he’s a very good player,” said Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter. “He’s extremely competitive and he’s just what I’d call a good person and good teammate. He’s well respected and gets along well with all the guys on the team. I believe he has excellent leadership skills and characteristics.

“He’s down to earth and definitely polite and respectful,” Sauter added. “He really is a very well-rounded athlete and well-rounded person. And he doesn’t take the opportunities he’s been given for granted in any way.”

The 18-year-old plays center for the Chiefs, a critical position that requires both top-notch defensive and offensive skills.

Johnson looks forward to an active and competitive future. And he recognizes those who have prepared him with life skills, too.

“I think CV has prepared me for life,” Johnson says. “I’ve always had great teachers and they always taught me a little more – they taught me the tools to succeed and made me a better person.”

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