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L.E.A.P.S. volunteer Johnson named first lacrosse coach at Mastery Charter-Shoemaker; school to become second boys’ lax program in Public League

Thursday, 10th December 2009

Categories Boy's/Men's, High School  

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 12/10/09

Arthur J. Johnson III has been named the first boys’ lacrosse coach at Mastery Charter’s Shoemaker campus in West Philadelphia.

The hiring of Johnson signals the start of a second scholastic team in the Public League. Last year, FitzSimons High fielded the first

Public League scholastic team, playing a JV schedule.

Johnson, 24, has been a volunteer coach in the L.E.A.P.S. program under co-directors Eric Gregg and John Christmas since June and played two years of club lacrosse at East Stroudsburg University. He will graduate this month from East Stroudsburg.

The hiring of Johnson is part of a significant expansion of lacrosse expected this year in the Public League. Officials said that as many as three more boys’ teams (also playing at the JV level) may be added and two girls’ teams may be launched. More information will be released this month.

Johnson, a Philadelphia native, attended Public League schools Franklin Learning Center and Simon Gratz and graduated from suburban school Upper Moreland. He believes lacrosse can provide an avenue for inner city student-athletes to excel and give them new opportunities for college educations.

“Growing up in the inner-city has let me see the big picture,” said Johnson. “I feel the city needs another sport in order for our athletes to get recognition.

“But I feel like a coach’s job is not just to make them champions on the field, but champions with the books. Lacrosse can open so many doors in the inner city. Who knows? We might see one of our kids at Johns Hopkins or Princeton, or maybe a kid at FitzSimons will go to Delaware or Syracuse or Maryland. Just give us a little bit of time.”

Johnson participated in track and field, cross country and football in high school. He was a starting member of Simon Gratz’s 2002 Public League semifinalist football squad and played on Upper Moreland’s District 1 finalist in 2003. He went to East Stroudsburg to play football. But at ESU, he was introduced to lacrosse and later left the football team to play the new sport he found so appealing.

“I first started playing lacrosse to get into better condition,” said Johnson, who played midfield. “After a while I liked the sport; it has more contact than football and it was a real fast sport. I am a fast person, and I am an athlete. I like something new and fresh, and I like to score.”

Johnson got introduced to the L.E.A.P.S. program after his father saw Gregg, Christmas and others coaching youngsters in Germantown as part of the many L.E.A.P.S. clinics conducted throughout the city this summer. Johnson said the L.E.A.P.S. leaders encouraged him to volunteer and learn to become a coach.

“I jumped into my car, grabbed a stick and came right up there,” Johnson said after learning of the clinics. “That’s when I first met Eric Gregg. He said, ‘Listen, come out and volunteer. I have coached with (new Harriton coach) Richard Owens and John (Christmas) ever since then.

“I did clinics; it’s like one big family. I learned from them. We’re all giving back to the city.”

Johnson, known as “Coach Ajay,” said a group of students at Mastery Charter-Shoemaker played lacrosse last year in an intramural setting. But he understands that the players are starting fresh and that he will be introducing many to the sport for the first time.

“My first goal is to convey to the kids that they can play this sport and that they can win in this sport,” Johnson said. “I have to keep them interested in the sport.

“Secondly, I will need to get them to understand they have to learn to catch, learn to throw and learn to get groundballs. I have to teach them the fundamentals and about communication.

“Being a recent graduate right out of college, my job also will be to help get them into college. I need to mentor a lot of these kids. A lot of kids may come from broken homes. They deserve this shot. They deserve a way out.”

Johnson wanted to thank the coaches at L.E.A.P.S. for giving him the chance to make an impact.

“L.E.A.P.S. has given me the tools and the city of Philadelphia has given me the privilege to coach,” he said.

Said Gregg: “Besides funding and transportation, the single greatest factor determining success for inner-city lax is having a coach willing to dedicate time and energy. L.E.A.P.S. works hard to identify these folks and assist them every step of the way. The hiring of Ajay is a testament to the work L.E.A.P.S. is doing.”



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