COLUMBIA — While a team from St. Louis received their gold medals amid a sea of applause, David Johnson watched as his team of Columbia second- and third-graders lowered their heads as they received their silver medals.
"Congratulate them," said Johnson, encouraging his team to raise their heads and be thankful for the basketball tournament in which they had just competed. "They put up a good match and we all had fun."
The parents of the players say they notice Johnson's dedication.
"This is what he does day in and day out," said Deronne Wilson, whose son Isaiah is among the players. "He is all about the kids."
For the past five years, Johnson has volunteered as the commissioner for the Show-Me State Games' pee-wee basketball tournament. Johnson helped organize one girls team and one boys team, both of which played in the championships of their divisions Sunday at Hearnes Center.
Johnson's efforts to get kids involved in sports doesn't end with the Show-Me State Games. He has had a long run of being involved with basketball and the community.
Johnson grew up in Columbia and played basketball for Hickman High School. He went on to play basketball for Fergus Falls Community College in Minnesota before transferring to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. After college, Johnson played professional ball in Australia for the Bendigo Braves.
"While playing, I also was the development officer for the team," Johnson said. "I was responsible for development and expanding the sport in the Bendigo area which included running tournaments, leagues, camps and clinics for kids."
Johnson said during the 1980s basketball was a rapidly growing sport in Australia, and he was getting thousands of kids to attend his tournaments and camps.
"In a way I was an ambassador for American basketball," Johnson said. "Kids were hungry to learn the sport, and seeing that really got me into wanting to come back and coach in the states."
After five years in Australia, Johnson headed back to the United States and took a coaching job at Brainerd Community College in Minnesota.
"It was my first job and it was great, but it was still in my heart to come back home give to my community," Johnson said. "So I decided to head back to Columbia and took the head basketball coaching job at Hickman."
After coaching Hickman from 1993 to 1995, Johnson briefly worked as athletic director for St. Paul's College in Virginia, but said he still did not feel he had given enough back to the people in his hometown.
"When I came back to Columbia, I decided to really get into the role of coaching, teaching and development," Johnson said.
Johnson quickly started the Midwest Sports Academy in an attempt to provide kids a place to play basketball in a safe and educational environment.
Two years ago, MSA opened a new facility complete with basketball courts and study rooms that provide a place for the teams Johnson organizes to practice, but also hosts several tournaments, leagues and clinics throughout the year.
"Not only do we provide a place for the kids to play, but we help shape them into leaders of their community," Johnson said. "The kids are required to volunteer at various events by helping coach and officiate games, as well as do time and score keeping."
Johnson also requires the kids to have good grades in school in order to play and provides homework assistance during the school year.
"We try to shape them to be well-rounded individuals since they are not only representing themselves and their team on the court, but their parents, their school and their town off the court," Johnson said.
Johnson relies on assistance of parents like Wilson, who coaches his son's team.
"I have helped coach my son's team for three years now," Wilson said. "It has been really great to see them grow and develop not only as competitors but as leaders."
The Midwest Sports Academy has also been a great opportunity to keep kids busy and out of trouble, according to Carlos Hall. Hall's son Keondre frequently plays at MSA and was on the squad Sunday that took second place.
"Since moving here to Columbia last July, the MSA has provided Keondre with a great opportunity to stay busy and keep away from doing things he shouldn't," Hall said.
Johnson says dealing with all the young players isn't a headache, he prefers it this way.
"I do enjoy dealing with the kids at this age, mainly for the fact they are at their purest," Johnson said. "They are beginning to find out if they enjoy basketball and they are having fun learning the game."
Johnson said he wants to drive home to his players that they can do something special in their lives.
"While growing up, I was a kid that made some poor choices and did some things I wasn't supposed to, but I still turned it all around," Johnson said. "If I can do it, they can. That's the message I want to send out to them and hope they all can go out in their community and be great role models."