Bigger than Basketball
Collegiate Academy graduate creates a magical experience for Friendship students & families
by Derrick Watkins
It started out like any normal Saturday morning in Washington, DC. The air was crisp and the sun bright while residents drank coffee and “caught up” along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.
By 10 am the parking lot of Friendship’s Southeast Campus was full, as parades of families hurried from their cars to the side entrance leading to the gym.
Inside, the rhythm of bouncing basketballs and screeching shoes against the gym’s oak floors accompanied cheers from cheerleaders wearing their schools’ colors with pride and dignity, while posing for group-selfies with their mini bands-of-sisters.
In the hallways, mothers and aunties made tight ponytails in their daughters’ and nieces’ hair, while fathers and uncles everywhere held discrete conversations with their son and daughter athletes, reminding them to apply the recommendations they’d just discussed at home the night before.
2006 Friendship Collegiate Academy graduate and former football player Coach Terry Johnson was all over the place, showing opposing coaches to their rooms and directing photographers to photo-opps.
Although it was clear to all that somebody was about to play [some] basketball, a less obvious, but equally important phenomenon had begun to slowly reveal itself – a phenomenon bigger than basketball.
As the first buzzer sounded, the Armstrong Wolfpack and the Woodridge Warriors made their ways to the floor, their faces, collectively and individually, conveying victory and pride. Seconds after tip-off, a group of like-minded spectators, including immediate and extended family, boldly showered the athletes, as if they were all just one team, with love and encouragement, yelling affirmations like, “You can do it,” and “Go Warriors! Go Wolfpack!”
Dads held children tightly as they fought urges to coach from the bleachers. Moms leaning against daughters studied all of the children with mother-eyes, ensuring safety. Big brothers and sisters yelled their siblings’ names, reminding them that everyone present was here just for them.
Southeast, DC native and Armstrong coach Terry Johnson, is the brains behind the Friendship Elementary Athletic Association. Although he initially planned to start a mentoring program in response to the number of DC boys with absent fathers, he saw a void in opportunities for all DC school-aged children to participate in organized sports.
“I wanted girls and boys to be able to play football and basketball together, as well as to learn competitive cheering,” Terry said. “We want to expose them to every opportunity to develop as big thinkers and good decisions makers.”
With encouragement from Friendship CEO Donald Hense and COO Pat Brantley to officially present his idea, Terry called on his friend and colleague, Armstrong Dean of Students Victor Bell, to help develop the academic and character development components of his athletic program.
“Friendship is committed to our students through college and beyond. We provide the platform for students to accomplish all of their dreams, knowing that they can rely on their Friendship family to support them along the way,” said Friendship COO Patricia Brantley.
Terry, also the head of security for Armstrong, knows first-hand the value of self-esteem and high moral character among DC youth.
“I was always one of the smartest kids in school, but I made bad decisions; some of which could have destroyed my entire life,” he said. “That’s why we do not bend on our expectation of excellence from our athletes. Today is much bigger than basketball. Look at all of the fathers here. And this is nothing compared to how many usually come!”
With Victor’s support, athletes in the program are consistently monitored for academic and social growth with progress reports and informal conferences with teachers. Each athlete must maintain a 2.5 GPA or greater, and make impeccable strides toward model student behavior. And when they don’t meet those standards, athletes endure consequences, which may even include missing a game.
Of the more than 200 athletes, including cheerleaders, active in FEAA, 100% have maintained 2.5 GPAs, while Armstrong’s basketball team is currently carrying a 3.0 GPA.
“If we teach them early, by the time they get to high school they’ll be ready for the academic and social challenges they may face,” said Victor Bell. “We are preparing them for college and life after college.”
An active dad of a four-year-old son attending Armstrong, Terry says that this is just the beginning of his vision, citing expansions next year to include soccer and T-ball.
“I completed three years at South Carolina State University, where I studied electrical engineering. Some of the decisions I made kept me from finishing, but the same teachers that helped me get into that program – Peggy Jones, Cherice Green, and Carlos Richardson – never turned their backs on me. In fact, I am very close to them all right now. They held me accountable for my actions, but never stopped believing in me.”
According to CEO Donald Hense, Friendship doesn’t give up on students. “Our teachers and school leaders don’t throw students away simply because they’ve made bad choices. Our students are our investments toward making the world a better place.”
For more information on upcoming games, or to support the Friendship Elementary Athletic Association, contact Terry Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.