DeRidder High alumni inducted into Hall of Fame

DeRidder High School class of 1981 alumni Bonita Branch Johnson was inducted into the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last Friday with her family members by her side.

Johnson participated in DeRidder basketball and track throughout her high school career, which was exemplary. She played guard and averaged 25 points per game. In her four years of high school, she made all-district four years and 4A all-state two years; she was the all-district MVP in 1980 and 1981. She was named Louisiana Miss Basketball in 1980 and Converse All American the following year.

After graduating, she began a collegiate career at Stephen F. Austin University with Coach Sue Gunter. When Gunter moved to LSU, Johnson followed and finished her schooling there. She went on to play in the National Women’s Basketball Association with the Louisiana Jazz for one year.

After leaving the NWBA, she did not go straight into coaching. She earned a degree in marketing, and spent time working in retail.

She didn’t want to coach at the time, she said, and would work the camps hosted at LSU every summer. The people she worked alongside at the camp saw her potential as a coach, however.

“Coach Dale Brown would tell me every year, ‘you’re missing your call in life’… and one day I just decided, you know what, he’s right.”

About 10 years after her college graduation, she decided she wanted a change in her life and gave him a call. Without hesitation, he helped pave the way for her to go back to school and get her teaching certifications.

Johnson is sure she is on the right path.

“They always say if your job feels fun, then you’re in the right place, and it felt like home.”

Basketball was a family activity when she was a child. She grew up a “military brat.” That is what brought her to the area; she moved to DeRidder because her dad was stationed at Fort Johnson (then Fort Polk). She recalled playing basketball with her brothers and sisters during the period of time that they lived in China.

The sport became community-centric, especially during the summer.

“I’m from a large family, so we just got outside and played. It was something that was available to us. … It didn’t matter whether you were a girl or a boy, you just got out there and played the game.”

For 27 years, she has brought those family values to the court in Louisiana high schools. Her first six years of coaching at Robert E. Lee High School (now Liberty Magnet High School), and the next 21 years at University Laboratory School, which is housed on LSU’s campus.

She has been named District Coach of the Year 16 times, Metro Coach of the Year three times and District Co-coach of the Year once.

Throughout her career, she has also coached volleyball.

Johnson got a call from the president of the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association to inform her she would be inducted into their Hall of Fame the same day her team qualified for State.

She said she was “amazed” and “stunned” at the news.

“It really shocked me because I don’t expect anything like that. I just coach, have fun doing what I do.”

Her daughter, who played both basketball and volleyball for Johnson, is being inducted into University Laboratory School’s Hall of Fame, as well.

“It was a big week,” Johnson remarked.

Many of her former students reached out to her after the news broke. They congratulated her, shared memories and thanked her, she said.

“It just means a lot to know that they had a positive experience.”

Her players learn more than just basketball. Johnson instills in them good moral judgment, diligence and positive sportsmanship. These are lessons she wants her players to carry throughout their life.

“Just being able to be there to make sure that they’re making the right decisions, the things that will help them later in life, is the biggest thing. We all want to win, but if we win at the cost of not showing discipline, then we’re not doing our job.”

The most important thing you can learn on the court?

“Be true and honest to yourself at all times.”

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