Middle States

History Behind the Name

Bill Johnson

History Behind the Name


History Behind the Name

Bill Johnson never did anything for recognition. He preferred not to be photographed. Especially on the tennis court.

But as much as he perhaps tried to avoid publicity, Johnson’s importance in the lives of thousands of inner-city kids has earned him recognition for generations to come.

Johnson passed away in 1994, but his legacy on and off the tennis court lives on.

Concentrating mainly on educating underserved youth through tennis, Johnson was a mentor to countless individuals. On the tennis courts, he provided young players with life lessons, served with ample discipline and structure. Johnson believed that tennis, helped individuals develop emotional self-control as well as physical ability.

He told his students to work hard, try hard, or go home. Most chose the former.

Johnson first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of 30. ADVERTISEMENT With a wooden racquet given to him by his father, Johnson visited Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and taught himself the game. He quickly became a strong player. Still, it was Johnson’s natural instinct as a teacher and his commitment to helping children that eventually made Johnson a champion of the game.

His devotion to youth tennis is still paying off today. Over the years, Johnson’s students have ranked high in regional and national competitions, and some have advanced to join the professional ranks. Education ranked at the top of Johnson’s list, and more than 100 of his students went to college on tennis scholarships. He would not allow student athletes to play if they did not have good grades.

Johnson could be recognized by the variety of unusual hats he wore. He was a tough coach, employing an authoritative style. “There is a director,” he said. “Me. That’s it.”

Remembered as the founder of the Fairmount Park/ Urban League Tennis Program and the National Organization for Athletic Development, Johnson has been honored with numerous awards, honors, and citations. He was inducted into the Middle States Hall of Fame in 1997.

Twenty-five years since passing away, Bill Johnson is still impacting tennis through the people he taught years ago. Read what some of his pupils had to say.


Chris Herdelin 

Head Tennis Professional, Greater Pottstown Tennis & Learning

I began playing tennis after watching the 1985 Wimbledon Final, during which 17-year-old Boris Becker was diving around the grass, scraping his elbows and knees in the process. I had never thought tennis could be so athletic. And Boris Becker was built like a football player, which was a sport I identified with and played as a young person.

My first experience as a player with an NJTL program was the Bill Johnson Tennis program. We practiced at the location adjacent to the Mann Music Center along Belmont Avenue in Philadelphia.

As I look back on the Bill Johnson Tennis Program, I realize how much the coaches were grooming me for life outside of tennis. The leadership skills, work ethic, toughness, focus, humility, as well as the camaraderie with the players and the coaches have impacted every aspect of my life. It is by no accident that many of my former teammates have forged a similar path to mine in service to young people involved in NJTL programs throughout the Philadelphia area. And it is certainly no accident that I currently work alongside one of the top players to come out of the Bill Johnson program during my time there: Greater Pottstown Tennis & Learning Director of Tennis, Brian Mcghee.


Marc Hill
Junior Director, Hopewell Tennis & Swim Center

I was one of Mr. Johnson's pupils — one of the youngest in that specific generation of kids.

His most valuable contribution to the game to me is similar to his contribution to his community, and that was the ability and passion to teach young men and women significant and crucial life skills through the game of tennis. He relentlessly instilled in us the important character qualities that provided us great opportunities for success that extend way beyond the tennis court. The three qualities that stood out to me the most are discipline, sacrifice and humility. Through Mr. Johnson, and the team of parents and volunteers he formed around him, we were constantly reinforced to do what is right, and give 100 percent regardless of who is watching. We were taught to sacrifice the lesser important things in order to focus our energies on what really matters. And we were taught to be humble even with our successes because we could still always do better, and we did not get to any level of success without help.

I hope what people remember the most about Mr. Johnson is his passion for improving people and that he made daily personal sacrifices in order to accomplish just that. Mr. Johnson not only improved the lives of many, but also saved quite a few, as well.


Aaron M. Moore
Former Bill Johnson Program Member

Mr. Johnson was my cousin on my great grandmother’s side. He was my tennis coach from the ages of 7 to 16 and one of the most influential men in my life.

His best contribution to the game was the values that he instilled in the young boys and girls who’ve attended his academy. Hard work and discipline was his number one slogan.  Mr. Johnson would push us to the max. He is the reason I was ranked between No. 1 and No. 3 in Middle States from Boys’ 12s to 18s, and obtained national USTA rankings. 

I want people to remember his love and passion for the game. He was extremely knowledgeable and knew how to get the best out of each kid. His motto was always to “never quit” and he stressed the importance of being a champion. He knew how to develop a special talent.



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