By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
Heal the Hood Memphis (HTH) Heroes of Memphis Weekend this Friday and Saturday promises an action-packed, thrill-blazed joy ride for hundreds of youth campers from across the city, according to HTH Founder LaDell Beamon.
“It will be all hands on deck with our ‘Living the Dream Life Camp’,” said Beamon. “This is our ninth year hosting basketball camp for Memphis-area youth. We are excited. The kids are excited, and this year promises to be our biggest and best of all.
“But we can’t forget Coach Jerry Johnson, ‘Coach J’ to many, who directed our youth camp for the past eight years. He passed in mid-February. We will miss his presence, but the spirit of encouragement and caring he gave us certainly lingers.”
Three major events highlight the Heroes of Memphis Weekend, June 3-4. Friday is “Living the Dream Life Camp” from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The organized chaos of youth, ages 6-18, will fill the Southwest Tennessee Community College (SWCC) gymnasium, 737 Union Avenue, with passing drills, running plays and basketball “technique.”
Saturday, from noon until 2 p.m., a “Parade of Heroes” will march from Martin Luther King Drive and S. Pauline to the SWCC campus. High-stepping majorettes, drum lines and dance groups will create a colorful spectacle for onlookers. The culminating All-Star Charity Basketball Game from 3-5 p.m. is the weekend’s signature event.
Such star personalities as Romeo, Master P, Tank, and Silk Da Shocker have come to Memphis for the annual showdown. The city’s most promising college ballers will vie for this year’s team bragging rights.
Jerry Johnson Jr., who just completed his freshman year at Fairfield University in Connecticut, will grace the court this year.
“I know my Dad wouldn’t want me to let up, so I’ve just tried to continue to play at the top of my game,” said Johnson. “I still miss him so much. Sometimes, I expect him to walk in the front door like he has so many times. He would be pleased that I will be playing in this year’s charity game.”
Coach Johnson retired five years ago from Memphis City Schools after 46 years as a standout teacher and one of the “winningest” coaches in MCS history.
Numerous league, district, city, regional, sub-state and state championship titles were chalked up in basketball, baseball and track. Most notably, his coaching success in basketball was notched during his tenures at Wooddale, Fairley, Kingsbury, Melrose and Mitchell High Schools.
“Coach Johnson touched the lives of many thousands of students and athletes for nearly more than 50 years,” said Natasha Hill, “Heroes of Memphis Weekend” project director. “After retiring, he continued to run our basketball camp every year. The kids loved him so much. We have great camp coaches to carry on, but Coach Johnson’s brand of coaching and structure are still there. We appreciate all that he left us.”
Hill recounts that a banquet honoring Coach Johnson years ago featured many stories of athletes who did not have fathers in the home and Coach Johnson, “stepped in to help their mothers guide, discipline, and encourage their children.” He picked them up for practice when they needed a ride and dropped them off later at home.
Coach Johnson, himself, was a homegrown hero, graduating from Carver High School and later matriculating at LeMoyne-Owen College. The Vietnam veteran – many students remembered fondly – called everybody (male and female) “darling.”
“They knew he loved them, and Coach really cared,” said Hill. “There will never be another quite like him.”
(For additional information on camp registration and admission to Saturday’s, contact Natasha Hill at: 901-482-1615.)