It’s always difficult to choose just one person to be the greatest in a program’s history. This is especially true when considering all of the talented players to come through a historic program like Mount Airy tennis.
There is one player that, in terms of hardware, stands head and shoulders above his fellow Granite Bears: Nicholas John. John has been called a number of things in reference to his tennis career, from a multi-time state champion to a Division II collegiate athlete.
John can now add another moniker to the list: a Hall of Famer.
It was announced last month that John would be inducted into the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” John said concerning his induction. “For people to recognize my accomplishments really is an honor.”
John’s accolades speak on his behalf. He graduated with five state championship rings, the most by any Bear ever. This consisted of two doubles titles, two team championships, and a singles title his senior year.
Not only was John the first player to win five rings, but he was also the first triple crown winner in school history. He earned this honor by winning a ring in singles, doubles, and as part of a team. John is also only the second Mount Airy player to win a state championship as a freshman.
No player could have experienced this type of success of their own, and John was sure to remember the rest of the Bears when talking about his accomplishments.
“I’ll always appreciate my teammates,” John said. “I got to win championships with different people and they helped me top off my senior year with a singles championship.”
It’s almost like John was bred for tennis greatness. His father and older brother both played tennis at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his aunt was the top seed at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
John began playing tennis at a young age and fell in love with the sport. He began competing in tournaments at just eight years old. At the time, John had to play in a division with 12 year-olds.
“I lost a lot,” John joked. “[But] I had a love for the game and was fortunate enough to have my dad as a great coach and family to look up to.”
Growing up in such a historic tennis program, John said it made him even more motivated to get better.
“I was always around the [program] and knew the guys before me,” John said. “I was proud to be a part of history, to come up in this program and raise the level of competition.”
And raise it he did. John’s high school accomplishments earned him a scholarship to play at Winston-Salem State University. John said playing in college was a different world, and that he was no longer the big fish in the pond of Surry County.
John welcomed the competition and used it to get even better.
“There are a lot of great players in the world; it really makes you humble,” John said. “I didn’t win as much as high school, but I’m all about competition and playing against strong opponents.”
John’s tennis journey didn’t stop at the college level. He was able to become an instructor and spoke of his travels around the world, with training stops as far as Argentina.
He even served as a hitting partner for 39-time Grand Slam titleholder Serena Williams.
Having conquered the courts, John said his next objective is to take to the skies. John is currently in flight school and is training to be a pilot.
Wherever his travels may take him, John will forever be immortalized in Mount Airy as perhaps its greatest tennis player ever.
The Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame ceremony will take place Sunday, April 22 at 3 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith