In first grade, Anthony Johnson started playing basketball at recess and never looked back.
“It was just natural to me,” Johnson said.
In his senior year at Douglass High School, Johnson had 90 blocks and 99 assists in 24 games, attracting the attention of college recruiters.
Johnson, 18, said it wasn’t until he transferred to Douglass as a sophomore that he began to get serious about his grades and his future.
“Coming to Douglass was like a big weight off my shoulders,” said Johnson, who will walk across the stage with 52 other seniors at Douglass’ graduation ceremony tonight.
Johnson, who has two younger brothers, has never known his father and was deeply affected by the deaths of two role models. His grandfather, who treated him like a son, died when Johnson was 6 or 7. Then, Johnson’s older cousin, someone he “wanted to be just like” when he was growing up, died of cancer when Johnson was in eighth grade.
By that point, Johnson said, he “hated everything. All I wanted to do was play basketball.”
Phyllis Masters, an instructional aide and Johnson’s adviser at Douglass, said that when he first arrived, Johnson was immature. He didn’t take school seriously,” she said.
Johnson now credits the staff at Douglass, especially Masters, for helping him change his life for the better.
“This is a better environment for me,” he said. “Everyone here, they care for all the students and if you ever need anything, they’ll go way out of their way to help you.”
In his senior year, Johnson was on the A honor roll second and third quarters and took classes at the Columbia Area Career Center. There, he developed an interest in computer programming, and he hopes to study it in college. He was on the A honor roll every semester at the career center, and he was recognized as an “I can,” or a model, student.
“Graduating, making honor rolls, being noticed — they show how people can grow up and change,” Johnson said. “And being around people who care about you makes all the difference.”
Johnson was also chosen to be Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club, of which he has been a member and volunteer for many years, said Consuela Johnson, his mother.
Johnson said he is being recruited by Moberly Area Community College, St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. He said he is favoring Moberly Area Community College because “it’s so close.”
Masters said she is proud of Johnson, a kid who “always has a smile on his face,” for his growth throughout the three years she’s known him.
“He’s goal-oriented now,” Masters said. “I have no doubt that he’ll succeed.”
Guidance counselor Robin Hogan has known Johnson since he was in middle school and said she thinks he will go far.
“I believe he knows what’s important,” she said. “He has self-awareness; he knows his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a good, solid person.”
Johnson, once in need of his own role model, said that now he is a role model to his two younger brothers.
“I try to set a good example,” he said. “I always try to be successful and not make dumb mistakes.”
Even though he’ll be graduating, Johnson said he’ll always remember his time at Douglass well.
“I’ll always be a Bulldog,” he said with a grin.