Young athletes from The First Tee of Essex County can now hit the links year-round inside the Charles W. Johnson Clubhouse, a brand new facility named in honor of the late golf champion.
Charles W. Johnson was remembered during a dedication ceremony at Weequahic Park Golf Course as a man who fostered learning in children through sports and for his penchant for golf.
"This is daddy's second home," said his daughter Maria Johnson of the picturesque 18-hole golf course in Newark.
It was working for Newark Public Schools, where Johnson spent 43 years as a teacher in Cleveland and West Kinney Junior High Schools, that the all-around former athlete began to hone his skills as a mentor. He founded S.O.S., an alternative education program for troubled youth, and went on to teach the game of golf to youngsters for more than 20 years at the Newark golf course.
To Johnson, nothing was more important than receiving an education, said Maria Johnson, advice he imparted to her and sister Sharon Johnson Blount, as well as the countless youths he mentored. Those words of wisdom, Maria Johnson recalled, originated from her grandfather, the late Rev. Dr. B.F. Johnson, the longtime minister of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark.
"Daddy was taught by his father that, just as god is omnipotent, education is the deliverer," she said. "If you get yourself an education, you can get a piece of the American dream."
Johnson, who died in 2011, was celebrated Tuesday as a key player in bringing the educational First Tee program, which teaches children ages 7 to 17 life skills through the sport of golf, to Essex County in 2006.
"Everything that came out of his mouth was positive," said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. "When he was here, he was helping young kids develop not only on the golf course but developing their life."
The new 1,600-plus sq. ft. center, located near the front entrance of Weequahic Park Golf Course in the Newark park, complete with a classroom, computer lab and area for practicing. Golf simulators will be installed at a later date and the facility will soon offer courses in SAT prep and college-readiness.
Previously offered as an eight-month program, the Essex County program will now operate year-round instructing some 1,000 students, with about 250 expected to be enrolled this summer. The program, which is open to any child in the county or nearby, also has a presence in 16 Newark Public Schools.
"(The clubhouse) allows us to have continuity year-round," said Ed Brockner, The First Tee's director of development.