City youth better off because of Johnson

August 24, 2005|By: TULLY TALK

I was walking out of the Providence High gym a few months ago

following a match involving the Pioneers' boys' volleyball team.

As I made my way to my car, I ran into longtime

Bellarmine-Jefferson High and area youth Coach Russ Johnson. Although

the Guards weren't involved in the match, Johnson was there to show

support for the rival high school.

Despite the excitement of the contest, Johnson was interested in


talking about something else. Just a week earlier, one of the coach's

former youth players, Tom Kelly -- who also coached at Burroughs --

led the Hart boys' basketball team to the CIF Southern Section

Division IAA championship game.

Johnson was practically beaming talking about his former player.

"Tom has done such a good job with that team," Johnson said.

"I remember Tommy when he used to be a player for me. Boy, did he

like to shoot the ball. I don't think he ever met a shot he didn't


"But it's really nice to see the success he is having at Hart."

That was typical Russ Johnson. I don't think many things made him

as happy in sports than seeing his players enjoying success and doing


Although Johnson isn't around to give praise to athletes who

needed a pat on the back or a bit of encouragement, many of us will

never forget a man who devoted a large portion of his life helping

young boys and girls be the best they can be.

Johnson, who was a mainstay at Bell-Jeff and at St. Finbar Parish

School, died Wednesday. He was 67.

Like countless others, I am honored to have known Johnson, who was

always quick with a smile and an outstretched hand whenever I saw


One of the things that amazed me about Johnson was how often I saw

him at area sporting events. From volleyball to football to

basketball, he was a fixture at Guards' contests.

But, as evidenced by his attendance at the Providence volleyball

match, he also enjoyed taking in contests at all the area schools.

I could always count on Johnson to give me his personal spin on

the game taking place. Whether it be a basketball squad missing its

defensive assignments, or a volleyball team not getting production

from its outside hitters, Johnson's expertise and keen sports eye

helped provide some interesting perspectives.

Without a doubt, he knew his athletics, and he had a wealth of

knowledge on a wide variety of sports.


Johnson was a longtime walk-on coach at Bell-Jeff who started the

boys' volleyball program in 1987. He also assisted the boys'

basketball program.

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