A fan for almost five decades, Renny Johnson knows Darlington football
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
If there is one thing Renny Johnson knows, its football. The Alabama native has been watching the game since he was young, learning the ins and outs of the plays and the players. For nearly five decades, Johnson has been the biggest fan of Darlington athletics, especially the football program.
In 1969 Johnson was teaching at a college in Alabama, having earned a Masters of Divinity as well as a Masters in History. An invitation from a friend to speak in Darlington led him to make a big change in his life.
“I was invited to Darlington to speak at a youth retreat by my friend of mine who was the pastor at First Baptist,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a year of decision for me. The superintendent of education, Mr. Mangum, and the school board attorney, Benny Greer, said to me ‘Now Renny, down here at (Mayo) they have a new principal and they need a social studies teacher. That would be an opportunity for you to teach, to preach some in the area and to work with the sports teams.”
Johnson said that the offer was tempting because he felt like there was more for him to do than just preach.
“To me, at that time, especially in the south, the most segregated hour was 11 o’clock on Sunday morning,” Johnson said. “So I looked at what Mr. Mangum and Mr. Greer said. When you’re little, you learn the song ‘Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.’ Well, where are God’s children all together in one place? In the public school system. A voice just came to me and said that that was where I needed to invest my life.”
Working as a teacher gave Johnson unique access to Darlington athletics.
“Well, I got in the classroom and I got to know the football players and I told Virgil Wells, ‘I’m coming to the game Friday night because I want to see my students play,” Johnson said. “With the football coaches, we worked out a unique thing together. The first year, I went on the road every Friday night scouting the team we’d play the next week. Now, with John Jones, I scout them (Darlington High School) and keep stats on them. With Virgil, I would talk to him before and talked to the team at halftime. With John, I give him the report after the game.”
Johnson said he never shied away from giving coaches the hard truth.
“I’m from down in Bear Bryant, Shug Jordan country, we don’t sugarcoat anything,” Johnson said. “We just write down what we see on the field. So we have this understanding that they can use most of what I say, half of what I say, or nothing of what I say. We can holler at each other, we can shout at each other; that’s okay. I’ve had that since 1970, I guess, and it’s been beautiful because I like the x and o parts of football and it gave the chance to do that.”
Still having a preacher’s heart, Johnson wanted to make sure that students had everything they needed, whether they stepped foot in a church or not.
“We founded the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at Mayo High School,” Johnson said. “With that little FCA group there have been about 12 ministers to come out of it.”
Johnson arranges for local ministers to give devotionals before each game and puts two books in the hands of each player, every year: Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and Coach Wooden One-on-One.
“My Christian faith, my teaching, preaching and love of sports, is all meshed together,” Johnson said. “In 2 Timothy, Paul compared the Christian faith to athletics. Young people identify with sports and that is one way to reach them.”
Pushing students to pursue higher education has also been important to Johnson, so much so that he has helped students get college scholarships and has personally taken dozens of students to visit colleges and universities in South Carolina.
The Darlington High School Booster Club named a scholarship in his honor a few years ago and money is given to two students each year.
“I cried when they set that up in my name,” Johnson said. “The way I like it is that the person is good in athletics and good in academics. There is someone in Alabama who sends a check every Christmas to go toward that scholarship. I have set up in my will that that scholarship fund will get part of the funds I have left at that time.”
Bill Boyd, currently interim superintendent for Darlington County School District, said that Johnson made a big impact on all aspects of school at Mayo and has continued to do that in the district even after retirement.
“Renny and I worked for several years together at Mayo,” Boyd said. “He worked very well with athletics, the students, the administration and the academics. Children loved him. In fact, some years ago they had a special banquet to honor him for all he did. I find him to be a friend and a loyal servant to the children of Darlington County School District.”