I was on the road heading home from Orlando, Florida when I heard the news of Coach Kevin Johnson’s death. My papa called and gave me the official word. Sure, I knew it was only a matter of time before cancer took him, but it was still a shock.
Generally, teenagers don’t think about death. I am not an exception to this rule, so when I got off the phone, I did what came natural to me.
I whipped out my laptop in that cramped car and I was quickly face-to-face with every journalist’s worst nightmare: a blank screen. I was at a loss for words and the only thing going through my mind was one memory from a couple of years ago…
Stepping off the bus for the first day of spring practice during the spring of 2009 has to be one of the scariest moments of my life. I was officially a Bulldog, but I wasn’t sure if it was really what I wanted to do. Sure, I loved football, but the fact that I was a small kid still in Jr. High and I was going to be lining up against big senior players made me uneasy.
However, that uneasiness went away before I even strapped my pads on. All it took was one smile and a few jokes from Coach Johnson and I felt at home. I knew I wanted to be a Bulldog and wear that “S” on my helmet.
Unfortunately, I never really got the opportunity to play for him. During that spring practice, he called the team into the meeting room and gave us some shocking news. The cancer he had before had come back. As soon as those words left his mouth, a silence fell over the room. None of us could believe it. Coach was a big, strong guy, as well as one of the nicest people you could meet, how could he have cancer?
He assured us he’d fight it, the Springdale way, and he did. He still came to practice when he was physically able to and sometimes when he might not have been, but he did anyway.
Now most people would say he “lost his fight” earlier this year, Tuesday, June 28th, but I say he didn’t lose anything. He won the fight and isn’t suffering anymore. He’ll be watching Springdale and Har-Ber next season from the best seat you could imagine.
When I shared this memory on Facebook, I received unbelievable feedback. Many people left comments sharing their own memories of coach and well over 100 people “liked” the post. It went viral, as I didn’t know many of the people that left comments or “liked” it.
I knew Coach Johnson impacted many lives, but I had no idea he reached the amount of people he did. I guess you don’t realize the impact someone had until they are gone.
Coach Johnson’s impact extended much further than the locker room and the players on the football team. A close friend of mine, who was never a player for him, told me that Coach was a father-figure to him.
Those that gave feedback on Facebook all seemed to mention Coach’s smile and huge bear hugs. Although he was a large man, he was very gentle; a “teddy bear” according to some.
Personally, I’ll remember him as all of these things. He was my first high school football coach, a godly man that I respected, and just an overall kind man.
I love you Coach, you’ll be missed. Once my coach, always my coach.