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Effingham County students enjoy 'organized chaos'
Effingham County weight training
Coach Chris Johnson’s second-period class focuses solely on its workouts as soon as the door to the weightroom closes. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
What makes it special is that there is an energy level when they walk in the door that is just above everybody else's.
Chris Johnson, Effingham County weightlifting coach

SPRINGFIELD — Iron starts pumping as soon as the music starts thumping in coach Chris Johnson’s second-period weightlifting class at Effingham County High School.

 “That group works hard and they are loud, and aggressive,” said Buddy Holder, Effingham County’s head football coach. “They cheer each other on and challenge each other. That’s a fun group to watch.”

To an untrained observer, it appears that Johnson is a conductor of constant chaos. The students move in every direction as he shouts encouragement and instruction in a crowded room filled with many more decibels than dumbbells. 

“It’s nuts,” Holder said. “Coach Johnson has that microphone on and he is like the Energizer Bunny.”

Johnson, an educator for more than two decades, thinks his second-period might be the best he’s ever led.

“What makes it special is that there is an energy level when they walk in the door that is just above everybody else’s,” he said. “When they come in the door, it’s like it’s their escape from the day. We play the music for them and they love it.”

 Weightlifting and loud music go together like peanut butter and jelly, Johnson said.

“When I was young, I loved to listen to loud music,” the coach said. “It’s no different with these kids today. Most of them love music.

“You watch them. They’ve all got headphones on and you have to take them out to just talk to them. My kids are that way. It’s just part of their culture and they feed off of it.”

Johnson uses Pandora to find popular tunes to play for his students.

“As long as it’s the right kind and it’s not going to be anything negative, we are going to let them listen to it because it inspires them,” he said. “That’s how today’s kids are built.”

Johnson said his praise for his second-period class isn’t meant to detract from others. He teaches weightlifting five times per day.

“It’s just a different focus,” he said. “I’m not saying that they are better lifters than anybody else. I’m saying that when they walk in the door there is just a focus on, ‘OK. I am now in the weightroom and door is shut behind me. It is just me and that bar, and my teammates and my buddies.’ 

“It’s just amazing. Sometimes you have to pull teeth with classes but you don’t ever have to do that with this group. They are one hundred percent focused on trying to better themselves for a greater purpose.”

The class features athletes from the school’s football, baseball and basketball teams, plus students who just want to get in shape.

 “It’s kind of like a situation where something happens and it just spreads like wildfire,” Johnson said. “Well, from day one, that class has been that way so even the guys new in the weightroom really get after it. It just kind of spread from one to the next.”

Johnson said clear class leaders have emerged.

“Keion Wallace, Miguel Kirkland, Nigel Wright — those are three that stand out in my mind,” Johnson said. “They are kind of in a corner by the door but you can feel the rush going all the way to the other end (of the weightroom). I love my job but that just makes it so much fun.

“It’s not really a job. It’s just kids loving to do what we’re doing.”

The second-period class never lets up, not even on game days. They attempt to set personal records in various lifts on Friday, the day football games are played in the fall.

“There are a lot of people who do that now,” Johnson said. “They use their game day for maxes. I got a flier from Bill Belichick and the Patriots one year, and it said on the Wednesday of the Super Bowl one year they squatted five sets of three at eighty-five percent of their max. Here they are a Super Bowl team and that has been playing since the summer, culminating at the highest level they can, and they are still lifting heavy weights.

“I think that’s a team thing. It just breeds spirit within the group that is there.”

Johnson loosely follows guidelines set by Bigger Faster Stronger, the premier performance group for high school and college sports. He and Holder frequently record successful lifts and post them on social media.

“The kids like that,” Holder said.

Johnson concurred with Holder’s description of his second-period class.

“It’s organized chaos,” he said. “On day one, we put in our plan just like you would if you were preparing for a football, baseball or basketball game. We put in our plan and the kids learn it as a freshman.

“And now they are learning it at the middle schools, too. We introduce our plan and we stick to it.”