Northside's Wharton perfect on court, nearly perfect in classroom
A great tennis player wins a lot.
A great student has a superb grade point average.
John Wharton is both.
The Northside graduate finished his tennis career without a loss, four years of varsity tennis without an L.
And when graduation rolled around, Wharton had a 3.95 grade point average — with honors and AP classes — to finish in the top eight percent of the 400-plus in the Northside class of 2017.
Throw in working at John Drew Smith Tennis Center in Macon as well as training there, and Wharton had a full plate.
Not a problem for the winner of the The Telegraph All-Middle Georgia Martha Pennyman winner as the area’s top scholar-athlete.
“It’s about setting priorities, what needs to be done,” Wharton said. “School always comes first. My parents always made sure that was on my mind all the time.”
For awhile, there was also some baseball and basketball. Baseball went away when Wharton was in sixth grade, and basketball lasted a few more years.
“I miss basketball,” Wharton said. “I stopped on a high note. We were middle-school champs.”
Northside tennis head coach Richard Turner first met Wharton when the youngster was in seventh grade. Turner and Wharton’s father played tennis, and soon enough, there was a smaller Wharton hanging around the adult players.
Wharton was around 10 when he got tired of watching older sister Tricia — who played at Middle Georgia State and just graduated from Georgia Southern — playing and grabbed a racquet. There was a comfort zone, and the skill set grew, which adults in Saturday leagues that included Turner and the elder Wharton saw.
“Everybody wanted to play Johnny,” Turner said. “Just to see what they could do.”
And for awhile, father and son played. Then, not so much, when Wharton was around 13.
“Before that, he said my strokes were good, I would just hit it out a lot,” Wharton said. “ ‘I’d hit it in to ya and hope you went crazy.’ After 13, I hit that milestone of not smacking it out.”
No kidding. Wharton continued to keep shots inside the lines, with remarkable consistency.
He was 11-0 as a freshman, 13-0 as a sophomore, 12-0 as a junior and 13-0 as a senior.
Alas, Northside tennis is still trying to find consistent success, so Wharton’s high school season has tended to end before the state tournament.
Youth tennis can be a sport where the kids and adults show some impatience with many things, including a lack of success. But Wharton was an exception.
“He’s so much better than (that) sort of thing,” Turner said. “He has never said, ‘Ah, I hate this.’ I’ve never heard him say anything bad about the team losing or anything like that.
“Once he’s done, he goes around and cheers on other players. I’ve never heard him say (anything negative) or never heard anybody say he said anything (negative).”
How into the team concept is Wharton? Well, he has raised more than $5,000 for the tennis program in three years, with funds going for uniforms, warmups and the year-end banquet and awards.
“He just started doing it,” Turner said. “In the past, we had some parents that would help out. It was nice that John took care of that side.”
Wharton’s fund-raising skills were tapped by another sport without him realizing it. He just went and raised money.
“I had one of my teachers this year call me into her room, and she had these car wash tickets,” Wharton said. “I thought it was for one of the clubs I was in.”
The teacher was also the golf coach.
“One of my friends was on the golf team, and we were talking,” Wharton said. “ ‘You’re selling them, too?’ ‘Yeah, it’s for the golf team.’
“I didn’t know that.”
Wharton recalls the closest he came to losing a set in high school, a 7-5 second-set win last year over underclassman Kushagra Biswas of Warner Robins.
“I would say he was playing pretty well,” said Wharton, who was involved in a variety of clubs in high school. “I guess I wasn’t used to it, and I was like, ‘I can slack off here,’ and I couldn’t. I think it was 4-3 at the time, and I was, ‘This is a little close, let’s just try to finish this.’ ”
The impressiveness of Wharton’s academic resume at Northside started early, with a top-five percent award as a freshman. A year later, he had the highest average in AP World History, and then was one of only three juniors to pass the National Math and Science Initiative AP exams.
He graduated with honors, taking advanced placement exams in biology, calculus and environmental science, among other honors and AP classes.
There was, however, a B last year in AP chemistry.
“I was a little upset with that one, so next semester, I made sure I got a nice little A,” Wharton said. “I think it was, ‘Hey, I just took chemistry. What could AP chemistry have on me? I know this,’ and then it hit me. ‘Oh, God.’ ”
As far as competitive tennis in Wharton’s future, that’s on hold. For now, he is focused on academics at Mercer. The Bears and head coach Eric Hayes had no seniors from the record-setting 22-6 2017 season, so there’s just no room.
While Wharton won’t be on a team next year, he’ll obviously still play and train, and see what the Mercer roster looks like for 2018-19.
Tennis wasn’t the priority in Wharton’s college decision. His current plan is to become an anesthesiologist, and Mercer — with a growing medical school presence throughout the state — was the right fit. And he’ll be happy playing college tennis at some point.
Wharton’s legacy with Northside tennis, however, will be more than the perfect record.
“Just a great kid,” Turner said. “And a lot of that would have to come … from parents, and bringing up the child and showing him the way. This is what happens when the parents don’t give up and when the children buy in. Great things can happen.”
Previous All-Middle Georgia selections this spring
All-Middle Georgia schedule
A look at the schedule for All-Middle Georgia teams to be released with the days the results will be posted on Macon.com and in The Telegraph:
June 18/19: Girls track
June 19/20: Boys track
June 20/21: Girls soccer
June 21/22: Boys soccer
June 22/23: Baseball
June 23/24: Girls Athlete of the Year
June 24/25: Boys Athlete of the Year