2012 U.S. Hall of Fame Player Inductee
By USTTA Historian Tim Boggan
“Play Ping-Pong and see the world”—that’s a mantra many of us have taken to heart, and few more so than 2012 U.S. Hall of Fame inductee Jennifer Brown Johnson.
The Ping-Pong, er, Table Tennis, we’ll get to in a moment, but Jennifer’s peripatetic sports life began not in the U.S. representing USA teams at home and abroad, but in Jamaica, West Indies. There, after having been stricken with polio when she was five years old, she became a determined-to-excel member of the Jamaican Paraplegic Team from 1968-1980 and, in addition to competing in Israel and Holland, won silver medals at the 1971 Pan Am Games and the 1972 Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, Germany. And this was in Basketball!
From Jamaica, where she was employed by the Government as an Executive Secretary, Jennifer came to the U.S., and in 1985 became a naturalized citizen. Over the years she’s held down steady jobs with IBM, Amax, and as Office Manager for the Dowling Group. She and her husband Denton, who currently call Port Chester, NY home, have a son Anthony, and both are with her tonight as she’s being honored with a presentation by her longtime friend and supporter Sharon Frant Brooks. Some initially used to refer to Jennifer as being among the ‘disabled,’ but, as we’ll continue to see, you could scarcely find one more able, both on and off the table tennis courts.
I’ll begin describing the accomplishments of this amazing 25-year member of USA International Teams by telling you some of the most interesting places she’s been: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, China (Jennifer led a group of 16 to Shanghai), England, Greece, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, and Venezuela. What most people would give for a lifetime of that kind of travel experience.
And now to a list of Jennifer’s major competitive successes:
1984: Paralympic Games: Silver in Teams and Ladies Class Singles.
1987: World Championships: GOLD in Ladies Class IV Teams and GOLD in Women’s Doubles (with Terese Terranova, the 1987 Women’s Wheelchair World Champion), and Silver in Women’s Class Singles.
1988: Seoul Paralympics: GOLD in Ladies Class IV Teams (with Terranova) and Ladies Singles Open; Silver in Ladies Class Singles. In winning the Gold in the Ladies Singles Open against Class III arch-rival Christiane Wininger of Germany, Jennifer, with some helpful coaching by Jim Beckford, encouragement from her teammates, and the look of late-game fear she saw in her opponent’s eyes, rallied from 19-16 down in the third to take the title.
[1989: Jennifer is now the Class III Ladies World Champion and the current Women’s Wheelchair World Champion.]
1989: National Wheelchair Championships in Miami Beach: GOLD in both U.S. and International Wheelchair Women’s Open (over Terranova in both).
1990: Pan American Wheelchair Championships: GOLD in Ladies Singles Open, Doubles, and Class Singles.
1990: USA National Wheelchair Team Trials (AWTTA’s first use of the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation Functional Classification): GOLD in Women’s Functional Class 3/4/5 and Gold in Women’s AWTTA Women’s Open (close wins over Terranova in both).
[1992: Barcelona Paralympic Games: Big disappointment: USA Wheelchair Team members Jennifer, Terese Terranova, Mike Dempsey, and Andre Scott were inexplicably left out of the Team draws.]
1995: 8th International Table Tennis Tournament in Austria: GOLD in Ladies Singles Open (defeated Austria’s 23-times World Champion Rosa Shweizer, 2-1 in the final), Doubles, and Class Singles.
1995: Pan Am Championships: GOLD in Ladies Singles Open and Class Singles.
1996: Atlanta Paralympics: GOLD in Ladies Class Singles.
1999: Pan Am Championships: GOLD in Ladies Class Singles.
2003: Mexican Open: GOLD in Ladies Class IV Singles.
2003: U.S. Paralympics Open: Silver in Ladies Class V Teams.
2006: U.S. Paralympic Championships in Las Vegas: GOLD in Teams; Silver in Ladies Open and Class Singles.
During Jennifer’s many competitive years, playing and winning weren’t enough to fully engage her attention. To do her justice I have to mention at least some of her off-court table tennis activities:
President of the American Wheelchair Table Tennis Association (AWTTA), 1988 to Present.
Member of Chicago 2016 Circle of Olympians and Paralympians.
Co-Chair (with Sharon Frant Brooks), USA Table Tennis Disabled Players Committee (2003-2008).
Organized and managed U.S. Paralympics T.T. Championships in Las Vegas and Chicago, 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Organized and managed U.S. International trips to Austria and Argentina.
Member of Wheelchair Sports Technical Committee.
Member of the TriState Wheelchair Athletic Association Board of Directors.
Member of Wheelchair Sports, USA International Games Preparation Committee.
Naturally, while at the center of such all-out activity, Jennifer has won her share of accolades:
1993/2003: Wheelchair Sports’ USA Athlete of the Year.
1994: Through generous support of Sudafed, Recipient of $500 Women’s Sports Foundation Grant for Travel and Training.
1995: Write-up in Essence Magazine (Jan.): “Women Achieving Goals.”
1995: Women’s Sports Foundation National Commercial with Kristy Yamaguchi.
1996: Cover of Sports ‘N Spokes as Atlanta Gold Medalist.
1997: The Burke Hospital Award for Athletic Excellence.
2007: Inducted into Wheelchair Sports Hall of Fame.
Turns out Jennifer’s husband Denton is also a Paralympic Champion. At Seoul in 1988 he won a GOLD in the shot put as well as silver medals in the Javelin and Club Throw. Helped by his lasting show of strength as her life partner, and by her own work ethic and deep religious faith, it’s no wonder that Jennifer appears before us tonight to receive this most significant of the many awards she’s deservedly earned in a dedicated 40-year sports career. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to our Hall Jennifer Johnson.