Aug. 29—WAGENER — "The Valley" was extremely familiar childhood territory for Efird Johnson, as he grew up in Vaucluse and went on to study at Midland Valley High School, including playing varsity football for the Mustangs in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.
The New Holland resident over the past several years has also racked up plenty of time in the Wagener area, to the point of becoming president of Wagener-Salley High School's athletic booster club and helping keep the War Eagles' teams in good shape on and off the field.
"Still have that fire in my heart for football," Johnson noted, adding that he remembers his dad watching him play football a few decades ago.
Johnson had hoped, years later, to see his own son play, but life brought some surprises. He and his wife, Marcie, started their family by having a daughter, Brayley, followed a year later by their son, Brenden, who had a type of epilepsy. He wound up competing largely in the Special Olympics and serving the War Eagles' football program as a manager.
Willie Fox, the War Eagles' coach, accommodated the Johnsons' desire to have Brenden on board with the team and arranged for him to score a pre-game touchdown at a November 2020 home game, with the blessing of Calhoun County High, the visiting team.
The father of the house was — and is — grateful. Years later, he helps lead the efforts to operate Wagener-Salley's concession stands, paint the football facilities, handle the occasional plumbing glitch and keep in touch with program boosters such as Piggly Wiggly, Southern Timber, Eudora Farms and Chandler Law Firm — "everything from funeral homes to fire departments," as one booster said.
Johnson's handyman skills have been sharp for decades. Johnson's full-time job is as the maintenance supervisor at Camp Long, helping with a variety of tasks at a 400-acre facility that dates back to 1933. It is also now the home of Tall Pines STEM Academy, and was once used by the Department of Juvenile Justice as a minimum-security facility.
"He never says no, and if he can't get something done, he knows someone who can," wrote Rhonda Poole, the booster club's secretary. "He's not afraid to ask for help or community support."
Poole estimated that she and he are on the phone "at least six times a week ... about the booster club and its business."
Questions at the monthly meetings may be on such matters as chicken strips vs. pizza and whether to bring Boston butts into the mix.
"We're not part of the school, but we're there for the school," Johnson said. "All booster clubs are above and beyond the athletic fund, or whatever, and it's there ... to help boost the athletics."
The club's top priority is "to make sure they have the equipment that they need to be able to perform and do their job on the field, whatever sport it may be," he said. "That could be something they're wearing. That could be ... a wrestling mat. That could be ... extra bases for the baseball field."
Among others who have chosen to "invest in the nest" this season are Tyler Tire, Sophisticuts, Wagener Milling Company, HeyCon Construction, Spring Steel Farm and attorney Jacqueline Busbee.