Johnson a familiar face behind the plate at NOAH

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / June 14, 2000

LAPLACE – It is said that some people are born to be ballplayers. Some aredestined to be politicians or teachers or accountants.

For Johnny Johnson of LaPlace, he believes he was born to be an official.

For the past 30 years, Johnson has been on a field, making sure that the rules of the game are followed. The last five of those years as been spentLaPlace Little League (NOAH), where he has been assigned umpire-in-chief.

Johnson grew up in Alabama where he played sports in school. It was duringhis playing days, that he gave the first inclination of what his future career would be in.

“I was always good about reading the rule book,” Johnson said. “When Iplayed, I carried a rule book in my back pocket.”It was after coaching his daughter’s softball team that he went into officiating softball. He later went into officiating football for the state ofAlabama. He started out working junior high football games. During his firstyear when he was in the press box, one of the officials got hurt. Johnsonwent down on the field and never looked back.

Johnson came to the River Parishes in 1981 to work for Texaco. He startedgoing to the games at NOAH when his grandson began playing five years ago.

During one of the games, he heard an announcement over the intercom that umpires were needed and volunteered. Since then, it is a very rare sight notseeing work one the playground’s games.

As umpire-in-chief, Johnson has the responsibility of game assignments for the other umpires. He meets with his crew, going over rules for tournamentsand giving them advice. Before going out, he tells them if they have anyquestions on another field, to call timeout and come to him. Johnson carriesaround a stack of rule books, including the official Little League rule book.

“The most important thing is to know the rules,” Johnson said. “You have tobe able to handle any situation that comes up.”With the most experience of any umpire in the organization, Johnson usually works the junior, senior and big leagues. It is in the younger leagues,however, that Johnson said that the most unusual situations crop up. But hesaid there is no difference in how the games are to be called.

“I try to take as much pride in the 9-10 games as in the 17-18,” Johnson said. “It means as much for the younger kids as for the older kids.” Like the rest of the umpires, coaches, concession workers and field maintenance personnel at NOAH, Johnson is a volunteer. For him, the playersare the best things about his work.

“The kids,” Johnson said why he does it. “The kids are the most importantthings.”LaPlace Little League has hosted a number of tournaments over the years, including district, area and state tournaments. This year, it will hosttournaments for the 7-8 and 11-12 All-Stars. Johnson will be working thosejust as he has for most of the others, most of the time behind the plate.

But like most of the players who play in those games, Johnson has an ultimate goal – to go to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.”I would love to do that,” Johnson said, adding that he would have to go to an umpire’s clinic in St. Petersburg, Fla., first.Johnson said he credits his wife for supporting him throughout his officiating career.

“I’ve been married 35 years and my wife has backed me 110 percent in anything I’ve went to,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he has also gotten a lot of support from the people at NOAH.

“We have good kids here and good people running the system,” Johnson said.

Johnson works exclusively baseball now, dedicating three to months a year to the sport. As for the future, he has no plans of giving up officiating anytimesoon.

“I want to do this as long as I can,” Johnson said. “As long as my body holdsout.”

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