It still blows Anthony Johnson’s mind that the fourth graders he started coaching, what feels like a short time ago, are now sophomores in high school.
Johnson started his AAU basketball team Columbia Supreme in 2018. Now, instead of only coaching a single team, Johnson is the head coach of three teams and oversees all nine teams that represent the Supreme.
With Columbia Supreme, Johnson has created an affordable option for families that normally wouldn’t be able to play sports because of the expenses. The AAU team is also a nonprofit, and Johnson is already expanding the organization beyond sports.
The mission is to “improve the life-long outcomes of at-risk and low-income youth while increasing inclusivity and diversity.”
“The big thing for us is to get as many kids as possible involved.” Johnson said. “Sports is the draw for the kids, but then outside of basketball, we do what we can to empower the kids, empower the families and figure out exactly what it is where we can fill in the gaps to help make sure everybody’s successful.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you first come up with the idea of Columbia Supreme?
Honestly, it was a guy named David Johnson, and he had a program the Columbia Orange. I was coaching a team for him for a couple years. Then, at one point the program was like no more, but the team that I had been coaching for a couple years were like “all right, there’s no more Orange, but we want to keep playing.” So, we had to make our own team, and I just let the kids name the team and they liked the name “Supreme.” So, that’s literally how it was born.
We were doing well, and people were commenting that they wish their daughters could play because there was a whole bunch of teams for the boys but nobody for the girls. So when we’re trying to expand, I was going to see which age group had the most girls that wanted to play, and it was like a trillion girls. I was like, oh man! So I just went and found some people that helped me coach, and here we are, still growing.
What’s something that those who have raised you taught you that you think has influenced who you are today?
I think the main thing that I got from my mom is just really focusing on figuring out who you are as a person and not feeling like other people need to tell you what your specific path needs to be. It took me a long time to figure out what it was that I was supposed to be doing, and what I wanted to do. And of all the things that I’ve done over the years, the stuff that’s important to me has been mostly kids.
What pushes you forward?
It’s pretty easy right now, because I’m at a place right now where I really enjoy all the things that I’m doing. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and do it again when it’s over. I really enjoy the kids and watching them grow and watching them learn. Just being able to be a positive role model and help show people the things that they want to learn and help them grow, I really enjoy that, and it keeps me going.
What do you think makes what you do so important?
The reason I think it’s important is because I really strive to be the person that I needed when I was a kid. My childhood was rough growing up, and I struggled with a lot of things. I know the position I’m in right now — nobody expected me to do this well in life — just based on how things were when I was a kid. I know that if I would’ve had someone just to help me and be there for me, especially a male role model, that would have took me a long way. So, I just try to be that for other kids.