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Joan Griffin Bio

In the 1950s, Joan Griffin grew up in the north end of town, just a few blocks from Terrace Park. She attended Cathedral grade school and high school where there was no athletic program for girls–not even PE classes. Nada. So did she come by her tennis talent genetically? She credits her love of the game to her mother, herself a competitive tennis player in the 1920s. Joan recalls her mother’s stories of the big SD tournaments held on clay courts in, of all places, Dell Rapids.

In the summer of ’54, at the age of thirteen, Joan started hanging around the old concrete courts at Terrace Park where she signed up for the SF Recreation Department’s Summer Tennis Program with instructor Don Grebin. She got so good at the game that Don started picking her up in the morning and they’d "commute" to the McKennan Park courts where many other gifted young players practiced. Joan fondly remembers the Volin family "for generously opening their home near the McKennan courts to me, supporting and encouraging my tennis, and nearly making this scruffy kid from the north end a part of their family."

And they certainly backed a champ. Joan went on to become one of South Dakota’s top players in the ’50s and ’60s. She won three SD Closed singles titles from 1958-60; plus, four closed doubles titles–two with partner Vee Smith, and once each with Cynthia Borgen and Carol Sandvig. She recalls playing the SD Closed in Brookings at the Armory courts–"where Lefty Johnson used a megaphone to keep us all organized and focused." Joan also earned the top Women’s Singles title at the SD Open in 1959.

Then, to our surprise, in 1960 Joan put down her tennis racquet and took up the habit of a Franciscan nun for eight years. In ’68, she left the convent to return to SD to begin graduate work in English at SDSU. Over the summers, she taught tennis at McKennan where the Volins, Sandvigs and Claytons were among the up-and-coming junior stars. Giving back to the tennis community, she drove the juniors to tournaments and even competed in a few tourneys herself. From 1970-76, she taught at Brookings High School and coached BHS girls’ tennis for a couple of years.

From 1973-90, Joan returned to tennis in a big way while working on her Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. While there, she competed in the Missouri Valley circuit (MVTA) which took her to Omaha, Fremont, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Lawrence and Oklahoma City. Over the years she enjoyed success in the MVTA including one year being ranked #1 in 35 Women’s Doubles, #2 in 35 Singles and #2 in 35 Mixed Doubles–partnering with one of her professors from the University of Nebraska English Department. In 1987, she even made it to the quarterfinals of the National Hard Courts in W35 Doubles.

While in Lincoln she was very active in the local tennis association and ran many tournaments at Woods Park, Lincoln’s equivalent to McKennan Park. In fact, she was so involved in tennis that her dissertation advisor threatened to "cut the strings out of her racquet if she missed any deadlines." But Joan met her deadlines, earned her Ph.D. in 1982, and managed to stay on the tournament circuit, too. In fact, one year the Lincoln USTA/Volvo tennis team earned their way to the Nationals in Seabrooke Island, SC.

In 1990, Joan moved to the Mile High City to join the English Department at Metropolitan State College of Denver, a large undergraduate urban college with over 18,000 students. She is currently the Director of Composition and Assistant Chair of the English Department.

Life lessons? Today, Joan can’t imagine a finer way to grow up in the 1950s than with all her dear tennis-playing friends and adult role models at the old McKennan Park courts. From her tennis coach, Don Grebin, she learned perseverance through his sage advice: "You just have to get the last point, and you’ll win" and "You’ll get ’em next time." From a long list of tennis regulars and their families she learned how to compete in a positive and healthy way. And last, but not least, she fondly recalls, "We also learned how to be decent, fun-loving kids who could also play a terrific game of tennis."