By KYLE LOVERN
SOUTH WILLIAMSON, Ky. – When Dr. Charles “Chuck” Johnson played sports at Belfry High School, he was always in a leadership role. No doubt this helped him in his future endeavors as he studied to become a pediatric physician.
Johnson is a 1978 graduate of BHS where he was the school’s valedictorian. So he not only excelled in a trio of sports, but also in the classroom. He received the Al Vipperman Award the spring of his senior season as the athlete with the best GPA and was also selected as the Best All-Around Athlete in both his junior and senior years at BHS.
Johnson was one of the first inductees into the Pirate’s Hall of Fame back in 1990, and rightfully so. He was a 3-year starter as quarterback for BHS, he was a 3-year starter at point guard on the basketball team and he also roamed the outfield for the baseball squad.
“When I started at Belfry, I started on Dick Roddy’s first team when he came to Belfry when I was a sophomore,” Johnson recalls. “It was new to everybody. He brought in a new offense. I guess I did fairly well in school. His offense was complicated – so it worked out well for me. I understood all of the plays. I not only understood what I had to do, but I could tell the other players what they needed to do.”
“He (Coach Roddy) was a very good mentor and someone that meant a lot to me as a teacher and coach,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately in basketball, I was there when Belfry went through six head coaches in six straight years.”
Johnson was an All-Area selection and was honorable mention All-State his senior season. He threw for 38 career touchdowns as the signal caller for the Pirates.
The Pirates had six different coaches in six years during a period in the 1970s, Johnson remembers. So he played for a different coach every year. When Johnson was a freshman, Bernard Collier was the head coach, followed by Butch Cline when he was in the 10th grade, Dale Trivette was his coach during his junior year and Tommy Dean Runyon took over his senior season. Runyon gave the program some stability and coached several years.
Johnson was coached by Gene Phillips in baseball, which was some of the better teams the Pirates fielded during his tenure. Johnson rattled off the names of several former teammates during that era.
“My experience of playing baseball began in the old Williamson Midget League,” Johnson recalls. The local league was not a sanctioned Little League at that time. Communities throughout the area like West End, East End, South Williamson, Town and Chattaroy fielded their own youth baseball teams and played at the old softball park by the pool.
He played midget league basketball at the Williamson Fieldhouse, which was his first experience on the hardwood. He also played in the Babe Ruth League, which was held at Lefty Hamilton Park with many of the kids from the West Virginia side of the Tug River.
Johnson also recalls playing in the Cub Scout softball league as a youngster. Some of those games were played at the old Turkey Creek Field.
“I think sports helps you become more organized,” Johnson said from behind his desk at the ARH Clinic in South Williamson. “It helps you follow rules and to set goals for yourself. To be at practice every day, to show up on time and to have discipline - it also teaches you to respect others.”
“Those are qualities you don’t always get in a classroom,” Johnson related.
Johnson has served as the Belfry football team doctor for 22 seasons. “I think it is amazing at the respect those players have for coach (Philip) Haywood,” he added. “There is not a game that goes by those former players don’t come into the dressing room. They are always welcome and some of them even say a few words.”
Johnson offers free sports physicals to the athletes at his alma mater. He continues to give back to his community. Now he serves as a member of the Pike County Board of Education. Johnson was appointed to take over for Bobby Varney who resigned from that same position. After a year he ran unopposed and was elected to the BOE.
Johnson talks about how population decline has decreased the number of students in Pike County and how that has affected the school system and sports teams. “Just in the South Williamson and Pond Creek area, I don’t think the population ever really recovered from the 1977 flood,” he added.
Chuck, as he is known throughout the Tug Valley, got his undergrad degree at the University of Kentucky in 1982 and then followed in his mother’s footsteps by attending the University of Louisville Medical School where he graduated in 1987. He did his pediatric residency at UK in 1990. He eventually came back to help his mother, the late Dr. Mary Johnson, with her pediatric practice at ARH in July of 1990.
Johnson had three brothers who also suited up and wore the Belfry red and white uniforms. “For 12 straight years there was a Johnson on the field,” he said proudly.
Johnson enjoys being on the sidelines on Friday night and being a part of the Belfry football family. He has also helped with other sports, especially when his daughter Mary Beth played basketball at Belfry and his son Chas played basketball and soccer.
Mary Beth is following in the family’s footsteps and is ready to start her third year of medical school at Louisville. Chas is studying Mine Engineering at UK. His wife Vicki is an RN at ARH.
Johnson talks about how things have changed over the years. He recalls the great rivalry that Williamson and Belfry had in all sports, especially in football.
“During the 1970s, every sport was always competitive,” Johnson recalls. “When we played the Wolfpack in football, it was always a big week.”
He said fuel was added to that rivalry when Roddy left Williamson and became the head coach across the river at Belfry, while former BHS assistant Mike Bankston left that school and became the head coach at Williamson.
He thinks Belfry’s football program “really took off” when Roddy took over and it has continued to excel through the years with Coach Haywood.
“We also had good games with Matewan,” Johnson reminisced. “They always had good teams and were competitive too when Jim Keatley coached there.”
Johnson also talked about how you don’t see kids out playing basketball on the playgrounds or football and baseball on the sandlot fields like in years past. “Kids just have so much other things to do these days,” Johnson said. He recalled how even within a community that kids would have their own teams and compete against different neighborhoods.
Johnson also discussed how many kids used to play all three sports, like he did, but you don’t see that as much any longer. Many students concentrate on only one sport, or they may participate in just two, but not multiple sports like in days gone by.
“Summers were special back then,” Johnson said. He also recalls how everyone went to the West End pool during the day and then would go play baseball in the evening hours.
“Sports are something I enjoyed,” Johnson said. “I think academics and athletics compliments each other.”