(Mar, 1922-Mar. 14, 1980). Amateur boxing coach Thomas L. (Sarge) Johnson was born in Millikin, Louisiana. As a lightweight with the United States Army prior to World War II, he was undefeated in 30 amateur fights. In the 1970s, he became one of the most influential amateur sports coaches in America.

Commemorative statue honoring the U.S. boxing delegation and Thomas (Sarge) Johnson, all killed in a 1980 plane crash, 1984 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Master Sergeant Thomas Johnson had called Indianapolis home for 25 years when he retired from the Army in 1965. Following his separation from the military, Sarge Johnson served as Boxing coach for the Camp Atterbury Job Corps Center at Edinburgh, Indiana. He also worked with the ROTC program at Crispus Attucks High School and with the Indianapolis Police Athletic League.

Coaching Indiana’s Amateur Athletic Union boxing team, Johnson tutored 1970s national Golden Gloves champion Marvin Johnson. An assistant with the 1976 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Sarge counted gold medalists Ray Leonard, Leon and Michael Spinks, and Howard Davis among his pupils. Representing the U.S. State Department, Johnson organized Indonesia’s national boxing team and in 1978 conducted a 17-day boxing clinic in Kenya. His American teams competed in over 40 countries during the 1970s.

Sarge Johnson and all 21 U.S. National Boxing team members were killed in an airplane crash near Warsaw, Poland. Johnson was eulogized as an American goodwill ambassador and as a minister, taskmaster, psychologist, and shining example to America’s youth. 

The Indianapolis Parks Department boxing club at Riverside Park was rechristened the Sarge Johnson Boxing Club in 1981. The national amateur sport governing body U.S.A. Boxing also awards Thomas Sarge Johnson Scholarship, an academic scholarship for undergraduate students who are members of the organization.

Revised March 2021

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