By Kathleen Knowles
When it comes to sports in Port Huron, one name is synonymous in excellence and sportsmanship. Glenn Clay Johnson was born in Detroit Harper Hospital on June 13, 1955, to Glenn and Arlene Johnson. At age seven, he and his sister, Candace moved to Port Huron with their parents.
The Early Years…
As a youngster, Glenn began his education at Roosevelt Elementary School. He went on to spend three years at Washington Intermediate before attending Port Huron High School.
Glenn’s love affair with the game of tennis began very early on. Although Glenn played Little League baseball as a boy, he found he enjoyed tennis more. In the summer of his fifth-grade year, at the age of ten, his neighbor and friend, Frank Stroh, convinced him to take up playing tennis. Through the Port Huron City Recreation Department and under the teachings of Marilyn Carson, the youngster began learning the game that would become a life-long passion.
The following year, Bob Love return to the area and started teaching tennis at City Rec. Under Love’s tutelage, Glenn began to learn the fundamentals of the sport along with his sister and Barb Selden (now Barb Lynch). It was at that time he felt he really learned to play tennis.
For the next few years, he continued to develop his skills. By the time he reached high school, he made the tennis team. In his freshman year, Glenn alternated with two other players between the first, second, and third spots on the team. That year, in the Eastern Michigan League Tournament, the team came in second place. Rick French and Gary Richardson won the doubles at the EML championships. Glenn was runner-up in the singles competition to Joe Fodell of Roseville.
From his sophomore year through his senior year, Glenn was the number one singles player on the Port Huron High School tennis team. Under Coach, Bob Lutz, the team won the regional championship in both Glenn’s junior and senior years. They also won the EML in his senior year. His junior year, Glenn and Rick French defeated Alex Dalrymple and Don Cole in the regionals to advance to the state finals. They made it to the semis before being eliminated in three sets. “That was probably my worst defeat,” Johnson recalled.
Although his main interest was tennis, Glenn did make the basketball team as a senior. “If I wasn’t playing tennis, I was shooting baskets,” Johnson said. “I was never a big reader. I followed a lot of college and pro football as well as pro basketball. I love sports. My mom was a sports nut, so I grew up with it. I like team sports, but I found tennis was much more an individual sport. If you won, you kept playing.” Tennis kept him active and his mind busy. He also felt that it was instrumental in keeping him healthy, not only through his high school and college years, but throughout life as well. It is important
After graduating from Port Huron High School in 1973, Glenn attended Bowling Green State University for five years. As Johnson began his sophomore year at Bowling Green, he found himself once again the number one singles player on the tennis team. “As a sophomore, I was playing juniors and seniors from other schools. My record was right around .500; I was about 12-12. By my senior year, my record was about 25-5. Tom Olsen & I won the Mid-American Conference championships. So I progressed.”
His plans to continue his tennis career were put on hold when he came back to Port Huron at Thanksgiving 1973. Glenn was playing tennis when he was hit in the eye with a tennis ball. Not realizing it was serious, he returned to Bowling Green in January. Glenn had torn the retina in his eye. He returned to Port Huron for surgery in February of 1974. He was not allowed to return to tennis until June. Unfortunately, the tennis season at Bowling Green was over by that time. Johnson came back to Port Huron once again and taught at the Port Huron City Recreation Department.
A Career Chemist…
While at Bowling Green, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. His first job after graduating was an automotive company in Port Sanilac where he worked in the quality control lab. He left there for a job at American Tape in Marysville working there for 17 years in the quality control lab and finally in Research and Development. After leaving American Tape, Glenn worked at Huron Plastics Group for nine years before returning to Inter Tape (FKA American Tape) and retiring in 2012.
A Brush with Death…
In 2010, Glenn Johnson suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. He remained in intensive care for 30 days. Surgeons operated and placed coils in his brain in order to stop the bleeding. He turned out to be as fierce a competitor fighting for his life as he had been playing tennis. Fortunate to have survived, it took time for Glenn to recover. When he did, he went back to work. After working for a year-and-a-half, he realized he could no longer handle the stress of his workload. It was at that time, he made the decision to retire.
When asked how the aneurysm affected his outlook on life, Glenn had this to say, “It was a little bit of a struggle; a little depression there, but it has worked out.”
The Robinson Tournament…
Glenn began playing in the Robinson Tournament at 11 years old. He became a force to reckon with very quickly. Playing singles, he won his first Robinson when he was 14 years old! At that time, he was ranked number three in the South Eastern Michigan Tennis Association. By the age of 18, he was ranked number one. His record in the Robinson tournament is nothing short of amazing. He won an unbelievable 21 titles at the time he was inducted into the Port Huron Sports Hall of Fame. For 16 consecutive years, he reigned as the mens’ singles champion. In 1989, his streak came to an end when he was defeated by Mike Clary. When talking about that particular loss, Glenn became very emotional. After regaining his composure, he explained, “It was also the year I lost my dad. I wanted to win that one for him.” In a rematch in 1990, Glenn defeated Mike Clary to return as the mens’ singles champion.
As it does with all of us, age began to catch up with Glenn. He played the open division until he was 47 years old, at which time he moved into the 35 and older division. By the time he reached his early fifties, he gave up
Glenn has been married to the love of his life, Jane, since 1980. She works as an ultrasound technologist at McLaren-Port Huron Hospital. The couple has two sons: Gregory, age 32 and Phillip, age 30. Both young men followed in their father’s footsteps playing high school tennis for Port Huron Northern. Philip also played football. Today Gregory works in the health care field and Philip is an account manager for Great Lakes Wine and Spirits. A devoted father and husband, Glenn enjoys spending time with his family.
In the Future for Glenn…
Today, Glenn still helps coach the Port Huron Northern girls’ tennis team in the spring. He is the captain on the United States Tennis Association team of men 55 and over, which he coaches. All summer they play in USTA League tournaments.
For the first time in years, he has a dog. With work, tennis, and family, he just did not feel he had time to devote to a canine companion. Glenn has always had a love for dogs. Now, he finds he has the time to devote to a pet. He is the proud owner of his Poodle-Schnauzer mix. Glenn finds he enjoys time with his pup and taking long walks.
In talking about the future, Johnson spoke of challenges. “You are confronted with challenges, you pass them and you go on to new ones. Every morning you have to get up and do things. Life is a series of challenges to be conquered.”
He plans to spend time with his family, and when Jane retires in the next few years, they will travel south for the winters.
An Example to be Followed…
Glenn Johnson has lived and still lives an extraordinary life. One will not find a classier gentleman anywhere. Always humble in victory and gracious in defeat, this soft-spoken man continues to live his life to the fullest. Through the years, he has experienced successes and setbacks. He has never allowed the successes to go to his head or the setbacks to defeat him. His sportsmanship and class represent the highest of standards and an example for all young people to follow.
Blue Water Healthy Living is proud to feature such an extraordinary tennis player . . . an extraordinary man. Port Huron is a better place for having had such a fine example of pure class. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
Blue Water Healthy Living Contributing Writer
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.