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'