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Empowering youth through basketball: Two Savannah District employees make a difference

Published Dec. 9, 2013
USACE employees Otis Anderson(left) and Terrence Johnson mentor and coach area youth through their athletic organizations Savannah Thunder and South Georgia 76ers.

USACE employees Otis Anderson(left) and Terrence Johnson mentor and coach area youth through their athletic organizations Savannah Thunder and South Georgia 76ers.

South Georgia 76ers Amateur Athletic Union Varsity Championship Team.

South Georgia 76ers Amateur Athletic Union Varsity Championship Team.

Savannah Thunder Athletic Youth Organization 7th and 8th grade boys shown here in July after winning the Amateur Athletic Union Super Regional Championships in Jacksonville, Fla.

Savannah Thunder Athletic Youth Organization 7th and 8th grade boys shown here in July after winning the Amateur Athletic Union Super Regional Championships in Jacksonville, Fla.

Otis Anderson, engineering division, coaches Savannah Thunder 8th grade boys during the Amateur Athletic Union Super Regional Championships in Jacksonville, Fla.

Otis Anderson, engineering division, coaches Savannah Thunder 8th grade boys during the Amateur Athletic Union Super Regional Championships in Jacksonville, Fla.

If anyone understands the impact that sports can have on a young person’s life, it’s Terrence Johnson. Through his organization the South Georgia 76ers, Johnson, a contracting officer for the Savannah District, has opened doors for 80 young girls in the Coastal Georgia area to attend college.

Formed in 2009, the South Georgia 76ers is an Amateur Athletic Basketball Union which provides talented young athletes in grades 9-11 a competitive outlet to improve their playing skills and showcase their talents to college coaches and evaluators who may consider them as potential recruits. The organization operates as a supplement to regular high school basketball programs by providing athletes with skill training and the opportunity to participate in tournament exposure events when the regular basketball season is over.

Johnson said he founded the organization to provide youth in the South Georgia area a chance to be successful and play in “great” basketball programs.

“Kids in South Georgia don’t have the same opportunities as kids in Macon, Augusta, Atlanta and Columbus,” said Johnson. “So, we take our kids from South Georgia to these areas to play against what is considered to be the best, so that they have the same opportunities.”

Much like many of the children he mentors, Johnson grew up in an urban community and says that if it weren’t for basketball, he would have probably taken a different path in life.

“I don’t know where I would have been,” said Johnson. “This is how I got out…This [basketball] was my savior.  So, the only thing I’m doing is returning the favor that was done for me.”

Not only does the organization focus on increasing skill on the court, but also on teaching character, sportsmanship, scholarship and life skills.

“We stress the importance of education and hardwork, and how nothing comes easy,” said Johnson. “We also teach our kids to set goals and to work hard to achieve them.”

Through his organization, young girls have earned athletic scholarships to attend schools such as Georgia Tech, University of Miami, East Carolina State and Armstrong Atlantic State universities to name a few.

 One girl who came through Johnson’s program received a full scholarship to attend college and is now an attorney. “If it weren’t for basketball, she wouldn’t have made it,” said Johnson. “Its successes like that which makes what I do worthwhile.”

Johnson said that seeing the kids sign a letter of intent to attend college on a basketball scholarship is one of the proudest moments. “That is the reward that I look for…the opportunity to give that kid a chance to be successful in life.”

Like Johnson, Otis Anderson of Engineering Division started a similar program in the Savannah area for young boys in grades six through nine. 

Established in 2011, Anderson’s program, Savannah Thunder Athletic Youth Organization, is a nonprofit committed to creating growth opportunities for youth through coaching and exposure to athletic events.

“Our goal is to mentor and inspire youth to become successful athletes while stressing the importance of sportsmanship, scholastic achievement and good moral character,” said Anderson. “We believe that our focus on personal growth and development through these channels will not only foster an environment that improves athletic skill, but will also enhance each participant’s ability to succeed as a student and contributing member of society.”

Anderson’s motivation for founding Savannah Thunder stems from his own personal love for the game.

“Basketball has always been a part of my life,” said Anderson. “I used to play street ball as a child, and it just took off from there. While it [basketball] has opened many doors for me, I have always placed a greater emphasis on academics, and that is what I stress to the youth that come through our program.”

Anderson pursued his passion for the sport as a student at Beach High School, which resulted in a partial basketball scholarship offer as well as a full academic scholarship to attend Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.. He accepted the full academic scholarship. Anderson is also responsible for forming the Savannah District Corps of Engineers intramural basketball team at Hunter Army Airfield.

“Otis spends countless hours and his own resources trying to get kids to the next level,” said Johnson who works with Anderson from time to time during the year when his organization hosts basketball leagues. “The commitment that he puts into the program is priceless.”

Johnson and Anderson spend about 30 to 40 hours a week on average during peak season practicing, preparing for games, meeting with parents and sponsors, tutoring, and mentoring the kids.

“It takes a big commitment because we have to balance our family and work lives with coaching, but it’s a sacrifice that we make because this is something that we are passionate about,” said Johnson.

Both programs thrive mainly through donations, fundraisers and volunteer contributions from parents and the community.  While other programs charge $500-$1,500 to participate, Anderson and Johnson’s programs charge a nominal fee.

“We work with a lot of children who come from single parent households, so it’s tough for the parents to pay,” said Johnson.  “When it boils down to it, if there is a kid that we think can make it, we don’t let funds become an issue. We will reach into our pockets and put in extra money to help them pay, simply because we believe in them.”

“In the end it’s, not just about basketball, it’s about them having a chance at being successful,” said Anderson. “Our program prepares them with the fundamentals to accomplish that.”

If you are interested in assisting Johnson or Anderson or know someone who would like to participate in either of their programs, you can find them in the global directory.