Sam Johnson Helped Groom Miami's Best NFL Stars
In 1989, Sam Johnson, a 36-year-old Miami-Dade bus driver, came looking for me at the Luke Records office. He coached a team that played at Charles Hadley Park in the Central Miami Little League baseball club and wanted to talk about it. The kids, he said, had won the league championship consecutively for a few years. We hit it off right away.
Two years later, in 1990, Coach Sam and I founded the Liberty City Optimist Club. We established a baseball and football program for the boys and cheerleading for the girls. Under Sam's direction, the club became the largest in the Miami area, not only offering sports but also providing academic and computer tutoring to thousands of kids and their families in Liberty City for 20-plus years.
With the help of his wife Margaret, Coach Sam kept the organization afloat with a steady stream of public grants and private donations from celebrity athletes such as former and current Miami Heat players Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade. Former Miami Hurricanes football players Edgerrin James and Andre Johnson helped out too. New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco first showcased his talents playing for Liberty City Optimist.
Because of Coach Sam, the club is a valuable asset to Miami's African-American community. He was there for generations of black children who are now hardworking adults in Miami-Dade. He could have made millions of dollars pimping the kids to agents and talent brokers. Instead, he maintained a humble life. Coach Sam and Margaret raised their son and daughter in an apartment in Brown Sub, a housing project in Liberty City. The couple recently lived in a small one-bedroom unit in Miami Lakes.
Sam passed away December 11. Until his last breath, he could tell you the name of every kid who was in the program and how long they had been part of the club. I have never met anyone more dedicated to helping Liberty City children than Coach Sam. He will be dearly missed.
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