Jon and Nancy Johnson from Sidney are community members that have provided a safe place for Sidney youth to play for over three decades. On Friday, Oct. 1, at the homecoming pep rally, the Johnson’s were publicly honored with a plaque and a scholarship in their name.
Nancy Johnson said she knew about the recognition but the plaque and scholarship was a major surprise. “I’m glad I didn’t have to talk because I didn’t think I would be able to. We were so overwhelmed by that. To have two seniors each get a $500 scholarship for what we’ve done is unexplainable. It’s so very cool.”
Kala Clark, vice-president of the Sidney Youth Sports program, said the field has been a staple in the community. It has been a place for hundreds of kids to learn the game and have a safe place to play. The Johnsons graciously opened their home up to the youth and those attending the games. They also provide concessions, and any money they raise from concessions is donated back to the youth program for T-shirts and other expenses.
Nancy Johnson gave some background information on how it all started. “Jon is the oldest of 10 and grew up in Michigan. They had a ball field and always had a swing set and bars. We built our home here in 1986, and Mr. Baggs, from Tabor, leveled our yard so Jon could make a field. It has brought so much joy to us over the years. With seven children and 19 grandchildren, it has been used for a long time in a variety of ways.”
“We have watched our kids and their friends play in our backyard growing up. They were out there just playing catch sometimes with a couple of friends or maybe an entire game was being played,” Nancy Johnson said. “Our Andy played hours with Kris Henneman throwing a ball over our house. It was always easy to find our kids when supper was ready, or it was bedtime. We still love our backyard the most when kids are playing. It is a good activity to see kids playing rather than being on their cell phones or playing video games. And we have not had many problems in all the years it has been there.”
It was the first ball field where many of the town’s children, not just the Johnsons’ children, learned to play baseball. The elementary girls softball team also used the field for a few years, and it’s been used for kickball and even a little soccer.
In the winter, the Johnsons provided an ice rink when the winter was extremely cold, and their own children would take turns spraying for an hour at a time. Johnson said, “Many Sidney youth learned to ice skate out there. We accumulated a couple of boxes of skates, and they could choose a pair and sometimes make them work with extra socks. We also have a volleyball net and have had several groups use that. One time we even had a mud volleyball game which was fun, but a huge mess.”
Johnson said that at first the tee-ball game was just a neighborhood get together; formal tee-ball came later. “We are also fortunate to also have a nice swing set for the tee-ball kids to use while they wait to play or their younger siblings can play on while the games are going on. A rest room is near the back door. There is a drinking fountain there and the landline telephone was also there for kids to use before most had cell phones. It wasn’t planned that way but it worked out well.”
The best part for Johnson is the generations that have come through. “It’s been most enjoyable to see the next generation bring their kids. These kids we’ve watched over the years now have kids here, and suddenly we’re starting the next generation. It is so much fun.” When she is asked why they still do it after all these years, Johnson answered, “Because it’s social and little kids learn. We know a lot of people through this, and we love it. My husband does a lot of work on it. He tills it, drags it, and after every game, he starts over. It’s definitely a labor of love for him. I do mostly the concessions. We so enjoy watching the kids learn and have fun.”
The Johnsons want everyone to know that they are welcome to use the field. They haven’t seen the kids playing near as much in the past several years, and they would enjoy having seeing the field busy again.
The scholarship created by the Sidney Youth Sports program named after Jon and Nancy Johnson will be awarded to a senior boy and a senior girl. It states that it is because of the Johnson’s love of sports and their commitment to this community that the love of the game has been allowed to flourish. The Youth Sports Board will nominate and decide who will be the recipient of the scholarship based on their willingness to help with youth sports and help teach younger children the love of the game.