A mentor for Philly pride

Matthew Johnson holds his cousin, Tyler Foster, on his shoulders before coaching his AAU team Sunday. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Matthew Johnson holds his cousin, Tyler Foster, on his shoulders before coaching his AAU team Sunday. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 15, 2012

Chillin’ Wit’ is a regular feature of the Daily News spotlighting a name in the news away from the job.

A LITTLE GIRL — her name is Tyler Foster — is sitting upon some impressive shoulders, high in the air on a Sunday afternoon before her cousin’s basketball game.

“I’ll look for a basketball for you,” Matthew Johnson says, his little cousin’s pigtails bouncing.

Johnson, 23, is dedicated to kids, and not just the ones to whom he’s related. He’s the head coach of the Strawberry Mansion varsity boys’ basketball team and a mentor with Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. He’s organized rallies against violence in his neighborhood and is thinking about trying to join the State Police.

On this day, he’s at the Upper Chichester Recreation Center, in Delaware County, where the AAU basketball team he coaches, Philly Pride, is preparing for a regional final.

The Gwynedd-Mercy College grad spends about an hour doting over his 4-year-old cousin as his players trickle in, expounding on the role sports can play with the city’s youth. He was a three-sport athlete at Strawberry Mansion and took up tennis in college.

“When I was a kid, I had three games in one day sometimes. I didn’t have time to get in trouble,” he says. “It was basketball, baseball, basketball, even on Mother’s Day.”

Johnson’s just as busy today: He’s a new homeowner and a new dog-owner, with an ever-increasing sense of mission.

“I want these kids to know there’s a better way, that if they surround themselves with the right people, and aren’t afraid to make good decisions, they can succeed,” he says.

As game-time approaches, Johnson takes a seat on the bench. Tyler sits by his side, a pint-size assistant. Only five players show up, and Johnson tells them there will be no breaks. They’ll be tired and sweaty by the end of the game.

They win, beating a Police Athletic League team from Norristown, 60-46.

“Bring it in. Philly Pride on three,” he says, as the players hold their hands in the air with his. “One-two-three Philly Pride!” n

— Jason Nark

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