BRANDYWINE HUNDRED — Joe Johnson realizes that not everyone is as fortunate as he is, and he has tried to do something about it.
The St. Mary Magdalen eighth-grader turned some of his good fortune into an opportunity for others. As a result, hundreds of children in the Philadelphia area may be able to play the same sports that Johnson does.
Johnson, joined by fellow members of the St. Mary Magdalen student council, visited the Philadelphia branch of “Leveling the Playing Field” on Dec. 8. They brought with them three carloads of donated sports equipment, which will be made available to those who cannot afford it.
At the end of the 2022-23 school year, St. Mary Magdalen principal Patrick Tiernan challenged the seventh-graders to write an essay about their academics; their goals, now and later in life; and their activities inside and outside of school. The prize was a $1,000 scholarship toward the winner’s tuition this year.
The Chris Lavelle Scholarship honors the late former St. Mary Magdalen student who died in 2017. Lavelle played sports at St. Mary Magdalen, St. Edmond’s Academy and Delaware Military Academy. Joe won the scholarship, but he asked Tiernan if he could donate the money to a deserving organization.
“I said, ‘No, you’re not giving it away,’” Tiernan said. Johnson earned the scholarship and was going to get that assistance for his tuition. But the school matched the funds so that both Johnson and a local charity would benefit.
Tiernan suggested a sports-related charity given Lavelle’s love of sports. They found Leveling the Playing Field, a national organization with a branch in suburban Philadelphia. Johnson was thrilled.
‘I wanted to give it back in a way,” he said. “I thought it would be a good idea. We just started a sports equipment drive. This past November, we collected a ton of sports equipment.”
“I love sports,” he continued. “I play basketball, baseball and soccer. I did some research on how sports impact social life, mental health, and all sorts of stuff like that, and I found out how much it helps. If you’re not as happy as you want to be, if you go outside and play sports, you’re going to be much more happy. That’s really important to me, and that’s why I wanted to start this drive.
“You probably know sporting equipment is really expensive, and some kids can’t afford it. And I feel all kids should be able to play sports.”
The school community got to work collecting equipment. To spread the word, there were announcements at the school and notices in the school newsletter. Johnson said he donated some basketballs and soccer balls, along with cleats. There were probably 100 pairs of cleats by the time they took the donation to Leveling the Playing Field warehouse.
Tiernan said in his experience, Johnson’s initiative was unique.
“From what at least what I’ve worked with, it was someone taking what had been awarded to him and pushing it forward in a positive way,” he said. “Joe took his own love of athletics and merged it with Chris’ love of athletics. Speaking to the emotional piece of it and saying, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Johnson has been at St. Mary Magdalen since kindergarten. He said service is a big part of the school’s message. He said he volunteers at the church, and he has helped with other projects, including making lunches for the Ministry of Caring. The equipment drive, however, gave him a chance to put a project “in my own hands.”
“I really care for the community,” he said. “I always want to give back and make sure everybody can have what I have. The drive really taught me a different way of service.”
He plays three sports but said baseball is his favorite. He plays travel ball for a team out of Chester County, Pa., and, as one of the older players on the team, tries to be a leader for his teammates.
Johnson, who is weighing his options for high school, encourages others to become involved in community service.
“If they think it’s a lot on their back, I’d just let them know that I did this, and people were very helpful. It’s not as hard as they think it’s going to be.”