When I walked into the Wildwood High School gym last month, the first time I had been there in 12 years, I was met with many familiar faces - the faithful I saw there so many times when I frequented that facility to witness the glory days of Monica Johnson.
As a sports junkie of sorts, I had been delighted to have an up-close and personal view of one of the best, most explosive basketball players in South Jersey. Having grown up in the era of "The Bad News Bears," in which females were still a novelty in male-dominated sports, I loved that it was Monica generating the headlines. I viewed her as a great role model, especially to my girl students, and I regularly talked her up in class.
In January, I was there to watch Lower Township's Lady Tigers and their standout, Lauren Holden, whose tenacious play and scoring ability are reminiscent of Monica.
As I was waiting for the game to start, I noticed Monica right away, number 23, sporting that same luminous smile, bounding up the bleachers, holding court with old friends, looking as if she owned the place. By all rights, she did. Three state titles and 3,000-plus points made her a majority shareholder.
At 30, she appeared as fit as she had been more than a decade ago, and it made me want to see her play again. But Monica was there as a spectator and because she was about the become the first female in Wildwood High history to have her number retired. What a fitting tribute, and a fitting coincidence that I should be there to help honor this athlete extraordinaire. After all, I was there for the 3,000th point, was there for championship games up in Elizabeth, and yes, I was even there at the game up at Seton Hall where Monica nearly helped knock off an undefeated Connecticut team.
I enjoyed every minute of it, right down to the final buzzer. So, it's a good time to say thanks for the memories, Monica. And, if you get involved in this wonderful sport again, as it seems you should, as coach or mentor, maybe you can create a few more.