by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Gina Terbot and the Niagara-Wheatfield Soccer Boosters believe they have the perfect way to remember a man they knew as devoted to the sport and the school community.
The group is looking to build shelters for each of the school's two fields – four total – to protect the bench areas from the elements. They're looking to dedicate these structures to the memory of Steven Johnson, a father of three Niagara-Wheatfield soccer players who was killed in the February 2009 crash of Continental Airlines Flight No. 3407.
"I requested a meeting with Interim Superintendent James Knowles and Director of Facilities and Operations Delbert Ambrosia about the long-range plans for our complex," Terbot said. "It was determined the girl's soccer booster club's project was in line with the long-range field usage and fully supported by both parties."
Terbot, representing the group, approached the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board in January to start creating the shelters. The board quickly granted its full support, allowing the boosters to begin consulting with students at the high school to design the structures.
One student, enrolled in the school's computer-aided design program, will be selected to design the shelters, which are expected to cost between $20,000 and $40,000 to build. But the boosters know the final dollar amount won't fall on the shoulders of the district to finance. They're taking the project to the people, seeking donations and holding fundraisers to build financial support rather than relying on taxpayer money.
And they're starting by going to the ones who will be most affected by the shelters.
"If every soccer player in the area made a contribution of their choice as a way of saying 'I'm really lucky my parent is still here' and every parent made a contribution of their choice as a way of saying 'thanks, Steve, I'm a soccer parent, too,' we would be off to a great start," Terbot said.
Johnson, 52, of North Tonawanda, died along with 50 others when the flight from Newark, N.J. to Buffalo crashed into a Clarence Center home. He has been described as a man who was a constant presence on the sideline for the school's girl's soccer program, one his three daughters – Ashley, Chelsea and Alexis Johnson – all participated in. Alexis Johnson, the youngest, just finished her senior season a few months ago.
Board President Steve Sabo, himself a girl's varsity soccer coach for rival North Tonanwanda High School, said he's come to understand over his 15-year career the value of having strong parental support on the sidelines, something Johnson provided in droves.
"When you have the chance to honor one of those parents who spent countless hours encouraging the Niagara-Wheatfield girls soccer players and helping make the program a success in ways that success on the field cannot measure, you take that opportunity and make the memory of him a part of the program's and school's legacy," Sabo said.
Chelsea Johnson, meanwhile, explained in a written letter to the board that the possibility of the shelters being memorialized in her father's name is exciting her entire family. She said though efforts have been taken to recognize all of the tragedy's victims, there's nothing for her family to enjoy to themselves.
This project would fix this.
"Since the plane crash, various memorials have been built to remember the 51 lives lost," Johnson said. "However, not one of those monuments has been created to help us remember our father the way we feel he should be remembered. For us, having a place in our father’s name where he stood for so many years showing his support for our friends and us would mean the world."
To donate, send checks made out to Niagara Wheatfield Sports Alliance – or NWSA – to the alliance at P.O. Box 451, Sanborn, NY 14132.
Meanwhile, the school board will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. tonight in the adult learning center of the high school, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Lewiston.