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Big Cypress ball field now bears name of beloved coach

Billie Johns Ball Field01BIG CYPRESS No one knows for sure how many children Billie Johns Sr. coached on hardscrabble baseball fields at the Big Cypress Reservation – not even Johns himself.

“Twenty-five? Maybe 30,” he guessed. “All I know is I had my best times giving kids practice out there.”

 On March 5, more than 50 turned out as a testament to Johns, 72, during the ribbon-cutting and dedication of the Billie Johns Sr. Ball Field.

Big Cypress Councilman’s assistant Wovoka Tommie said chatter began “a long way back” about naming the ball field that has, since the late 1960s, grown from one scrappy diamond to three fields complete with restrooms, dugouts and regular maintenance.

The name constantly repeated was that of lifelong Big Cypress resident Billie Johns Sr.

“Billie has always been a productive member of the community and a man of great integrity. When the sun was up, he was up moving and working,” Tommie said while hosting the dedication lunch and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

By day, Johns’ career included road and forestry work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Later, he served the Tribe in the maintenance division by keeping the dirt roads smooth and the streets clean. Before long, Johns was made the water master for Water Resource Management, which demanded knowledge of the land and water needs. It was Johns who would open canal locks to determine when and where water would serve the Tribe’s needs until his retirement in 2008.

At night and on weekends, Johns was on the ball field shaping the lives of countless children.

“He taught us how to play ball, catch a ball and throw a ball,” Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger said. Tiger credited Johns with helping him become good enough to play for Colorado State University and then for a semi-pro team.

Johns told the crowd how he and a few Tribal men started youth baseball on Big Cypress by simply gathering kids together and teaching them how to play. Johns had experience from playing for Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, Okla. and at Cherokee High School in Cherokee, N.C.

The Big Cypress team played its first game against a Clewiston team. Johns said the Big Cypress team was nervous and downright scared.

“He calmed them down. He told them to go out there and use their skills,” Tommie said, translating Johns’ words from Mikasuki to English. “The next thing you knew, the team was winning and Clewiston didn’t want us to come back.”

Tommie said Johns never demanded respect – he earned it and deserved it.

Johns’ wife, Mary Louise Johns, said her husband was always concerned for children. The couple had two of their own and at least a dozen more that they helped raise who still call them mom and dad. They have seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Anita Johns, Billie Johns’ daughter, said she could not describe the feelings of happiness and pride that came over the family when they gathered under the newly painted Billie Johns Sr. Ball Field scoreboard during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“There are no words, no words,” she said.