Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Rockford loses two former sports stars

Staff Report

ROCKFORD — Two former top RPS 205 athletes died this past week.

Joel Peterson, who was a collegiate Division I football and track athlete from East High School, died Saturday at the age of 80 in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Dick Johnson, a 1962 Auburn graduate who finished fifth in the state in tennis as a senior, died Monday morning in St. Louis. He was 74.

Peterson was an honorable mention all-Big 8 tackle for the E-Rabs football team in the fall of 1954 and then second team all-conference in 1955. In track, Peterson was the rare blend of power and speed. He won four Big 8 track titles, two in the discus, one in the shot put and one as a member of the 880-yard relay team.

Peterson, who also played basketball at East, ended up lettering in both track and football at Wisconsin, although his career there was cut short by knee injuries. He earned a degree in landscape architecture and went to work for the Madison, Wisconsin, Planning Department, working his way up to economic development manager.

Although there are a handful of NIC-10 tennis players who compiled a record better than Johnson at Auburn, there are none who have matched his decades of accomplishments following high school. After playing at Kalamzoo College, Johnson went on to become the head tennis pro at St. Louis Country Club for 30 years, retiring in 2014.

Over the course of his competitive career, Dick amassed 44 U.S. national titles and competed on six continents. He has been inducted into the St. Louis Tennis Hall of Fame, the USTA Missouri Valley Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Kalamazoo College Athletic Hall of Fame. He was the No. 1 ranked 70-year-old tennis player in the world in 2015. R.

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