Originally created 04/03/00

Athletes' group gives back to community



Sometimes it appeared that everyone greeted Jimmie Johnson with a hand outstretched.

At first Johnson, a former Philadelphia Eagle and Josey product, had trouble declining requests. Money was flowing in steadily for the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Augusta native. The softhearted tight end figured there had to be a better way to reward the community that had supported him prior to his NFL career.

In conjunction with Michael Curry and Gerald White, Augusta Sports in Action was born. Their union uses sports clinics to improve athletic skills, emphasize education and bolster confidence.

Curry, a member of the Detroit Pistons, and White, a former Auburn standout, offer several basketball camps each year. Meanwhile, Johnson conducts a free football camp at Josey every summer.

Johnson's 10-year NFL career presented numerous opportunities to assist those less fortunate than himself. Remaining active in his hometown allows him to reinvest in Augusta after being bombarded by financial requests during his pro career.

"They come out of the woodwork when you have money," the 33-year-old said. "Eventually, you draw the line and say `no more.' You know who's along for the ride and who is a friend.

"I know (some kids) can't afford a camp of any kind. That is my way to give back. I've been fortunate in my life, and this is what I can do -- show the kids how to be a decent human being."

Augusta Sports in Action is one of several community outreach organizations initiated by professional athletes from the Augusta area. Contributing time and money is a priority for many of the two dozen current and former professional athletes whose roots are entrenched between Jackson, S.C.

and Sandersville, Ga.

Welcoming their role-model status, these high-profile citizens use their celebrity to champion charitable causes.

"Giving something back is the least you can do," said Silver Bluff standout and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Corey Chavous. "It's something you should want to do."

Chavous, a two-year pro, speaks to school children and has helped local prep athletes create tapes for college recruiters. But deciphering who genuinely needs assistance and who wants to take advantage of him can be a difficult task.

"For the most part, you can't guard against things too much," Chavous said. "It's important to know who your real friends are. I'm happy to say that most people have your best interests in mind."

After following a meandering path to the NBA, Curry found financial security and wanted to share his wealth. Three years ago, the Glenn Hills graduate teamed with Johnson and White, a Richmond Academy alum, to form Augusta Sports in Action.

In addition to their camps, the philanthropic group sponsored a special Christmas exchange last December. Residents were able to exchange canned food goods for new toys at May Park. The food was donated to Harvest Food Bank.

"(Giving back) is one of the things I've always done, everywhere I've been," Curry said. "I've helped anyone I could."

Stressing academics and promoting self-esteem is the mission of Augusta Athletes in Action.

"We're a group of guys from the Augusta area who tried to give back to the community and hope the kids take something from it," Johnson said. "We want them to leave camp feeling they got better and take a message that they can succeed in life."

Arthur Marshall uses his foundation, Project Quest, as an avenue to expand the realm of possibility for youngsters in Augusta. The Hephzibah product and former NFL receiver offers leadership camps that challenge middle schoolers to broaden their scope of opportunities.

Competition is used to spur intellectual creativity. When obstacles arise, the children are taught how to overcome them.

"They work with people they're not familiar with and they have to work with others to complete the task," said Marshall, who played with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. "You learn to depend on someone else you don't know.

"You show them how to strengthen their weaknesses. They can apply that to the other parts of their lives as well."

While extending a helping hand is commendable, North Augusta mayor Lark Jones said athletes are not obligated to do so.

"A lot of it has to do with how much the community had a hand in their success," Jones said. "It's up to the individual -- Do they owe the community anything? I don't think per se they do."

Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.