Best of Photojournalism: 2021

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NOTE: You’re not seeing the date wrong. Turns out I never posted this back in January of 2022, so I figured Dec. of 2022 would be fitting.

2021 a year in 4 months

For reasons I think few people would need an explanation for, 2021 wasn’t looking like it was going to be a year filled with a lot of photojournalism assignments for me, but as crazy as things have been it should also be no surprise that it turned out to be the busiest year I’ve ever had in photojournalism. I tripled the number of photos and assignments I had in 2018 & 2019, but what’s really crazy about that was, with exception to one assignment in March, all of the shoots I was on were over the last 4 months of the year!

High School Sports was back

As the majority of my photojournalism work is in the sports world, the high school sports season kicked off during the last week of August. One of my first “best of” shots was Mt. Carmel’s Damarion Arrington losing his helmet during a tackle. It ironically wouldn’t be the only shot of Arrington losing his helmet that made the list.

Mount Carmel’s Damarion Arrington loses his helmet during a tackle by St. Rita’s Joseph Kingbury (40) & Johnny Schmitt, Friday, August 27, 2021, in Chicago at St. Rita High School. (Vincent D. Johnson).
Mount Carmel’s Damarion Arrington (14) celebrates after scoring a touchdown with 1:08 left in the game to bring the Caravan within two points of Brother Rice. Arrington had his helmet knocked off at about the 1-yard line before crossing the goal line into the end zone, at Mt. Carmel HS in Chicago on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson ).

This picture was from the end of the game in the very first picture. With 35 seconds left in a tied game and their team kicking a short field goal, things were looking like either a win or overtime were about to happen for St. Rita, but a blocked field goal that lead to a scoop-and-score, stunned the student section.

St. Rita’s student section is stunned as a blocked field goal is returned for a touchdown by Mt. Carmel, Friday, August 27, 2021, in Chicago at St. Rita High School. (Vincent D. Johnson).

From shocked to happy faces, this picture surprisingly never ran in print or online, but the smile on Caroline Macander’s face as she holds up a sectional championship for Mother McAuley says it all. Also, winning on your home court has its advantages, like you can just leave the plaque on the bench since it’s your school.

Mother McAuley’s Caroline Macander is all smiles as she holds up the Mighty Macs’ Class 4A Volleyball Sectional champions plaque while being surrounded by her teammates and fans, in Chicago on Wednesday Nov. 3, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Daily Southtown).

Speaking of fans it’s always impressive when one of the smallest schools at the state football finals brings one of the largest crowds. Lena-Winslow didn’t let those folks down, although the drive to DeKalb wasn’t that far, as they took home the 1A State Title.

Illinois varsity high school IHSA Class 1A Football State Final game between the Hawks of Carrollton and the Panthers of Lena-Winslow, at NIU in DeKalb on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Speaking of the football state finals, 2021 was my first time back shooting the culmination of high school football in Illinois since 2005. I took in all 8 games and had fun with keeping some distance from the trophy presentations, to being right on top of them, like this shot of Kaden Libby from Wheaton North kissing the 7A trophy. I love the reflection on his cheek and he other lip imprints on the trophy already.

Wheaton North’s Kaden Libby, kisses the 7A state championship trophy after the Wheaton North beat St. Rita , in the Class 7A state championship game at Northern Illinois’ Huskie Stadium in DeKalb on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson).


This was also one of the first seasons I covered soccer more than once or twice and despite being a bitter old rugby player, the game has started to grow on me, especially at the high school level where flopping isn’t a major issue. These next two photos are part of the joy and heartbreak that goes with being a keeper in futbol.

Mount Carmel’s players swarm the field and pile on goalie Efrain Farias after a frantic attempt by St. Laurence to tie the game up in the final minutes, in Burbank on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson / Daily Southtown).
Chesterton’s goalie Ethan Boedeker sits in goal after Noblesville scored its fourth goal of the first half during the 3A soccer statesemi, in Kokomo, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson-Post-Tribune).

The passion that soccer players have is always impressive, but sometimes it can turn ugly. The second photo here is from a playoff game, but I won’t mention any team or players names, as the losing side felt the referee of that match had made some bad calls costing their team the game.

Bloom’s Johnathan Magana (7) and Christian Munoz (23) celebrate after Magana’s goal against Lockport during the 3A Sandburg soccer Sectional, in Orland Park, Wed. Oct. 27, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson / Daily Southtown).
Players upset with a referee after a playoff loss clap, jeer, and stick out their tongues as he leaves the field. One player was even restrained by a coach after coming with inches of the official. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

While that was about as close as I got to on field violence during 2021, one of the more unusual games I covered this year was a Chicago Public League football game between Simeon and Phillips. Two Simeon students were shot and killed in separate incidents in September and school leaders made the decision to not allow fans to attend the game, due to concerns it could create a venue for retaliation.

A view from above shows the Gately Stadium stands almost completely empty during the game between Simeon and Phillips. Only players, coaches, press, cheerleaders and band members were allowed inside. Fans were not allowed because of concerns about violence after two Simeon students were murder during the week, in Chicago on Sept. 25, 2021. (Vincent D. Johnson-Chicago Tribune).
T.F. South’s Xavier Lewis dunks during a game against Evergreen Park, in Evergreen Park on Thursday Dec. 2, 2021 (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Daily Southtown).

Photographing my friends’ kids.

One of the few bonuses of getting older is going from seeing the people you know playing sports in high school and college, to seeing their children take the field. Now on occasion I’m actually assigned to cover a game where friends and old-classmates have kids playing in the game.

Gavin Dooley passes in a football game between the Griffins of Lincoln-Way East from Frankfort and the Indians of Minooka, in the IHSA Class 8A Second-round playoffs game in Minooka on Saturday Nov. 6, 2021. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Joliet Catholic offensive lineman Anthony Birsa
Joliet Catholic’s Anthony Birsa (64) prepares to block during an Illinois high school football game against the Warriors of Crete-Monee and the Hilltoppers of Joliet Catholic Academy, in Joliet on Friday, September 24, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson ).

More favorites, less stories

Here are some more images from 2021 I really liked. I hop you do too.

Here’s a collection of some more of my favorite photojournalism images from 2021

Check out some of my favorite images from a my 25+ years of photojournalism, here.