NEWBERRY — Growing up in Newberry, Johnnie Caldwell said his life revolved around the outdoors and recreational sports.
“Back then we didn’t have as much computers and phones going on. It was THE thing we had,” Caldwell said of sports.
Caldwell, program coordinator for the City of Newberry’s Parks, Recreation, and Tourism department, said growing up he was involved in many recreational team sports including football, basketball, baseball, and other youth leagues. His friends were just as involved.
“Everyone I knew played ball,” he said.
When he was younger, Caldwell said what is now the Pope and Hudgens law firm along Main Street was a community center, which held many pool tables and activities for youth to enjoy. The town also had two community swimming pools, which Caldwell said was a huge deal at that time.
“Everything was kind of in Gallman area, so whenever you got done playing sports you finished at the Gallman pool,” Caldwell said.
At the time, Caldwell said the town had many summer baseball and basketball leagues.
“When you got up in the morning you got out the door, came in and got some lunch, went back out and played into the night,” Caldwell said. “My parents used to tell me to get home when the street lights came on.”
Upon graduating from Newberry High School, Caldwell went to Winthrop College (now University) where he studied physical education with an emphasis in recreation and leisure services. His goal was to maintain a career within his field of study.
“That’s the one thing I always said, I wanted to work within my major,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell left Newberry and took a job in Jacksonville, Fla., working at a recreation center part time. He also did some substitute teaching.
After his job in Florida, Caldwell went to work for the S.C. Department of Corrections as a prison recreation coordinator. He worked there for the next nine years.
“It was a job that you could really be yourself working in,” Caldwell said.
In 2001, Caldwell took his job with the City of Newberry as the Program Coordinator for the PRT department.
While some of his time is spent doing paperwork, Caldwell said during a sports season such as softball, baseball or football, he spends a lot of his days and nights on the fields, preparing them for games and practices.
“Everything is about getting ready for the day,” Caldwell said. “I come in and do what we have to do to get ready for that night.”
Just for smiles
The most rewarding part of his job, he said, is to see children outside, being active, and enjoying recreational activities.
“You can’t do this to get rich,” he said. “You’ve got to love this. That’s exactly why I do this job — to see kids smile and have fun.”
Technology is what Caldwell said has made the biggest difference between today’s recreation and what he knew growing up. Just trying to get kids outside these days is a task, Caldwell said.
“Back then we didn’t have video games and phones,” Caldwell said. “Kids got out and played. We were in parks and out riding bikes in the street.”
Aside from technology, Caldwell said he is proud to work with the City of Newberry’s department. There are more programs being offered to children in recreation which he hopes every child will take advantage of.
As part of the PRT department’s Parks Awareness campaign, Caldwell volunteered to play the part of Super Johnnie, the caped super hero who finds himself in a different Newberry park every week.
“It’s been something,” Caldwell said of the experience.
Each week, PRT department director Scott Sawyer uploads a cropped photo of Super Johnnie at a different park to their Facebook page. Throughout the week, community members guess which park is being featured. The winner gets a prize package.
“Johnnie Caldwell is awesome,” Sawyer said. “I thought he might be apprehensive about the Super Johnnie idea, but he embraced it. He does it all for the PRT department and he really is Super Johnnie. He was the city’s employee of the year in 2009 and he continues to maintain an exemplary work ethic. We are very fortunate to have Johnnie, but we also have an excellent staff overall and we’re fortunate to have them all too.”
Caldwell said when Sawyer first came to him with the idea he thought he was kidding, but realized when the suit came in that he was serious. He admits the Superman suit got him pumped.
“When I had the suit on, I did feel like I was doing a good deed for Newberry to help promote parks,” Caldwell said. “I guess that was my super power.”
The goal is to continue Super Johnnie next summer, but Caldwell said they could might change to another character or super hero.
When he’s not working ball games or promoting the parks in his Superman suit, Caldwell enjoys spending time with his family. Caldwell and his wife, Charlene, have two children, Candice, 18, and Kelsey, 16.