Freddie Johnson, the head coach of the Lake Forest High School football team, was selected to coach the Gold team in the 56th Annual Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game. Johnson’s daughter, Reily, 4, will be participating in the Hand-in-Hand program that is part of the event.


It’s been a pretty special year football-wise for Lake Forest High School’s Freddie Johnson.

This past season, Johnson led the Spartans as their head coach to an 8-2, 5-1 record, a Henlopen Conference Southern Division championship and trip to the playoffs.

But another honor came in for the Lake coach last week, one that hit close to home for him, when he was announced as the head coach for the Gold team in the 56th Annual DFRC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game, which takes place Saturday, June 18, 2011, at University of Delaware Stadium.

The game benefits the Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities.

Johnson said it’s an honor to get selected for the job and that he’s excited to return to the game, as he was an assistant coach in 2008 for the Gold team.

“This game has a lot of meaning to it,” he said. “It gives you the chance to coach some of the top players in the state of Delaware. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to coach in a game like this.”

But there’s another element that makes this significant to him, as Freddie and his wife Stephanie’s daughter, Reily, 4, will be taking part in the DFRC’s Hand-in-Hand program for the first time.

The program pairs one or more senior participants with a Buddy, a child or young adult between the ages of 4 and 18 who has an intellectual disability, to take part in Blue-Gold sponsored activities.

The goal is to build a bond between the two new friends and teach valuable lessons of diversity, awareness and acceptance.

Reily was born with cognitive and physical development delays, Freddie said, and the Hand-in-Hand program is something he knows his daughter will enjoy, especially since football is involved.

“My wife and I are football fans, and she’s grown to be a football fan too,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the whole experience.”

Stephanie took it one step further and said football is one of Reiley’s favorite things, so much so that at the John S. Charlton school, which she attends, the staff uses football to try and get their daughter to walk.

The whole event, she added, is something that should be special for the whole Johnson family, including Kori, 14, Noah, 12, and Shymer Hanzer, 16.

“She doesn’t talk, she doesn’t walk, but whenever she sees football, she gets so excited,” Stephanie said. “Blue-Gold just combines her favorite things for her. It’s not just a football game. It’s a lot more than that.”

Standing opposite Freddie on the field and leading the Blue squad will be St. Marks High School Head Coach John Wilson.

Freddie also will be joined by a few friends he handpicked for his coaching staff, including Carlton Brown, Dover High School head coach; David Eilers, Polytech High School head coach; Michael Tkach, Milford High School head coach; and Lou Copio, Lake Forest assistant coach.

The coaches, Freddie said, were picked because they expressed interest, but also because of the kind of people they are.

“They’re good guys, nice people, and they care about the kids,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning some things from them and just getting a better relationship, being able to sit down and talk about different experiences we’ve had.”

Brown, who will be participating in his fourth Blue-Gold game, agreed and said it’s a blast to get to know some of the rival coaches better.

“You get a chance to know someone and it’s a great opportunity just to bond away from the field,” he said.

The other element outside of the game that Freddie said he’s excited about is to see the football players and how they interact with their Buddies.

“It touches me to see a different side of the football players,” he said. “It’s all the things leading up to the game, the experiences the players have with the Buddies, and how they interact with them and vice versa.”

Brown elaborated on that, adding that the way the personalities of the players change in that situation is remarkable. Sometimes, he said, it is a permanent, life-altering change.

“They’re so gentle and caring,” he said. “It’s a lifelong relationship that they form. For some kids, it’s changed what they want to do in life. You hear them talk about different careers and after that experience they change and want to be involved in special education.”

56TH ANNUAL DFRC BLUE-GOLD ALL-STAR FOOTBALL GAME COACHING STAFF

GOLD SQUAD
Head coach — Freddie Johnson, head coach at Lake Forest High School
Asst. coach — Carlton Brown, head coach at Dover High School
Asst. coach — Lou Copio, assistant coach at Lake Forest High School
Asst. coach — David Eilers, head coach at Polytech High School
Asst. coach — Michael Tkach, head coach at Milford High School

BLUE SQUAD
Head coach — John Wilson, head coach at St. Mark’s High School
Asst. coach — Rahsaan Matthews, head coach at Pencader Charter School
Asst. coach — Tyran Rice, head coach at the Charter School of Wilmington
Asst. coach — Lee Sibley, assistant coach at St. Mark’s High School
Asst. coach — Matthew Smith, assistant coach at St. Mark’s High School

Email Brian Citino at brian.citino@doverpost.com