BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A Birmingham City Schools coach who also taught special education died just days after his 43rd birthday. Derrick Johnson’s family told WBRC he passed away after being hospitalized with COVID-19 for a little more than two weeks.
Johnson, affectionately known as “Behr,” was unforgettable and those who knew and loved him were devastated by the untimely loss.
“We are hurting right now. We really, really are,” said Huffman High School Principal John C. Lyons.
An educator, athlete and member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Johnson was simply one of those people who everyone liked. He dedicated his life to teaching children with special needs, serving 18 years with Birmingham City Schools.
Johnson began his career as a paraprofessional and coach in 2002 at his alma mater, Woodlawn High School. He was one of the youngest of the bunch of experienced educators at Woodlawn and in them, he found friends and mentors.
“I was assistant principal at the time over at Woodlawn. He told me he wanted to be an educator. More than anything that’s what he wanted to do,” Lyons recalled.
Principal Lyons now leads Huffman High School, where Johnson coached football, wrestling and taught his final classes.
Lyons said he wanted to start Birmingham City School’s only wrestling team and Behr was the coach.
On Christmas Eve 2020, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and later hospitalized. Lyons recalled the last conversation he had with Johnson just before he was taken to ICU. The pair found laughter in the darkest moment.
“I spoke to him on December 31. I said, ‘Stop playing around with this thing and let them do what they need to do so you can get back to work!’” Lyons joked. “I said, ‘We’ve got to move your classroom. Come on!’ He just laughed and said, ‘You have moved me all over the school.’”
Johnson died a little over a week later on January 10, 2021. Lyons vowed to continue Behr’s legacy.
“He was always happy, always laughing, always jovial. I’m proud to have been his supervisor and his friend,” said Lyons.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association released a statement calling Johnson an “icon” and offered condolences to family and friends.
Birmingham City School’s offered counseling to staff. Funeral arrangements have not been made at this time.