The Blue Devil tradition lives on through Bruce Johnson

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Photo courtesy of westfieldathletichof.com

Bruce Johnson (Right) handing out a Hall of Fame induction in 2018.

“For me, nothing compares to a Westfield game. I’d much rather see the Blue Devils than anybody.”

Each word uttered by WHS alum Bruce Johnson (‘63) reveals his unwavering loyalty to his Westfield roots. A now tranquil demeanor does not mask the fearless pride that he takes in his identity as a Blue Devil.

“Although he doesn’t live here anymore, he never lost sight of bleeding blue. He’s a Blue Devil forever, even to this day,” says WHS Supervisor of Athletics Sandra Mamary. 

Johnson pursued a variety of athletic passions in his time at WHS, trying out football, basketball, baseball and tennis before eventually landing on swimming in his junior year. After just two seasons of swimming for Westfield, a return to basketball during his career at Fairleigh Dickinson University and service in the U.S. Navy, Johnson returned to WHS in 1994 for a coaching career that would land him a 2010 Hall of Fame induction. Under the 13 years of Johnson’s tutelage, the boys swim team earned 12 county titles, 10 sectionals and six state titles. “We had a good run,” Johnson reminisces. “It was one of the highlights of my life.”

While he is quick to attribute his success to the talents of his athletes, the excellency of Johnson’s coaching strategy is undeniable. “Bruce’s biggest strength is that he loves to do research. His strength was finding the best lineup for each event,” Mamary says. “That’s not easy to do.”

“We emphasized the team,” Johnson elaborates. “We didn’t emphasize the individuals. It’s one thing to produce great swimmers, but it’s another thing to teach them to put the team first. We had the kids willing to give up their individual glory to get the team glory.”

Johnson’s passion is echoed in the anecdotes of his greatest coaching moments. He details two of his most memorable state championships against Cherry Hill East in 2000 and Bridgewater in 2001 with a discernible sense of pride in his athletes. Of the Cherry Hill East meet, Johnson says, “We did it. We almost had a perfect meet where every single kid swam a best time. That was truly an amazing state title.”

Although he doesn’t live here anymore, he never lost sight of bleeding blue. He’s a Blue Devil forever, even to this day”

— WHS Supervisor of Athletics Sandra Mamary

Johnson’s Blue Devil pride carried over into his 50 years as a local sportswriter. As the author of “100 Years of Blue Devil Football,” and former writer of The Westfield Leader’s “Devil’s Den” column, his work has always been centered around the triumphs of his town, never running out of ideas and dedicating much of his life to Westfield Athletics through both writing and coaching. 

“The thing that makes that so cool is his passion behind it,” says Mamary of Johnson’s journalism. “So much of what he talks about, he experienced and watched. That’s going to be with us forever. It’s cementing what we have into print.” 

Johnson cites the most exciting moment of his sportswriting career as his opportunity to watch WHS alum Chris Campbell wrestle in his first NCAA championship match in 1975. Campbell, a four-time Big Ten champion, two-time NCAA champion and Olympic wrestler is just one example of a WHS athlete who Johnson connected with through the community. “You end up following the kids all the way from Little League through high school and, in the case of Chris Campbell, following them to the wrestling mat,” he says. “You get attached to the people. It’s very personal.” 

Johnson continues to expand his legacy at WHS today, working with Mamary to update the gymnasium’s championship banners and handing out awards at the annual swim banquet. Both he and Mamary are original trustees for the WHS Hall of Fame. “He’s still a very big part of the fabric of that program,” Mamary says. “As a reference for all of our sports, historically, he has always been my first phone call.”

Johnson has a message for current student-athletes:  “You have to do what you want to do in life, not what anyone else wants you to do. Basketball was my life and I ended up getting into the Hall of Fame because of swimming. We don’t know how things are going to end up sometimes, but if you’re a good person, it’ll work out.” 

As one of the longest-standing members of the WHS community, Johnson’s words carry profound weight. “He’s the vital link between the past, the present and the future,” Mamary says. “There aren’t enough people like him.”