Gerestried to GCC: Emmanuel Haug’s Journey

Troy Cornell

At 16-years-old, the young and impressionable Emmanuel Haug found himself swinging his beloved raquet in the middle of the desert. Four years later, it is safe to say what happened in Vegas, certainly did not stay there.

In the small town of Gerestried in the district of Bad Tîlz-Wolfratshausen in Bavaria, Germany, two supportive parents and three brothers paved the way for a opportunity, few in his town of 25,000 had the courage to seize.

20-year-old Haug remembers walking to school every morning with his three other brothers. It is where he found himself taking a racquet from his father’s hands and playing tennis against the garage door of his house.

“Life was easy in Gerestried. I could walk three streets down from my house and there would be the (Isar) river and some of my closets friends.”

At the end of his 10th year of school, Haug wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mother, who had studied abroad in America, using the same high school study abroad program that eventually brought him halfway across the world.

As part of the challenging selection process, Haug had to write a short biography about himself for his potential host-families.

“I wasn’t allowed to choose where I wanted to go. I could have ended up anywhere, but I was selected to [stay in] Las Vegas.”

Haug then took the 2004-05 school year to study in Las Vegas at Palo Verde High School where he won a state championship playing tennis.

What he found out about himself during his time in America changed him for the better.
“Coming over to the States was so important for my [tennis] game.I was able to see that I was better than I thought I was.”

“Growing up is so much more different in America than in Germany. In America, you have a high school mascot and there is a lot of togetherness, you feel proud of where you go to school.. There are no high school sports in Germany like you have in the United States,” he said.

“I was totally accepted by my community [in Las Vegas], even though I couldn’t speak English very well,” said Haug.

His Las Vegas host parents, Don Johns and Pamela Martin, were gracious and hospitable.

Johns and Martin took in the then up and coming 16-year-old tennis star, two people Haug still shares a special bond with.

“We have great communication, we [still] talk every weekend,” Haug said.

“They were like my mom and dad. The first thing they told me when I got here [Las Vegas]: ‘We’re your American mom and dad’ and I’ve been calling them that ever since,” said the sports medicine major.

Haug returned back to his Bavarian hometown where he finished his time at the Gymnasium (the equivalent of high school) and most importantly passed his Abitur exams, the gateway to German students who want high-paying jobs in fields such as medicine, law or engineering.

“I wish I could have had both at the same time,” Haug said referring to his time spent in Las Vegas and his friends and family back home in Gerestried.

“It was really tough to leave [the U.S.], I wanted to see my friends and family again, but I knew I was going to come back.”

Preparing for a return trip to America wasn’t too easy for the 5-foot-11-inch tall German international.

Haug made it clear shortly before leaving Las Vegas that playing tennis in America is something that he had a great desire to do. His host parents at the time, Johns and Martin, called their friend, Don Stewart, a professor from the University of Las Vegas, who then called UNLV head coach Owen Hambrook to inquire about a spot on his tennis squad.

Hambrook, at the time, could not fit Haug into his roster, however, he knew of a man by the name of Bob Mackay who Haug could spend two years practicing his game under.
As soon as Haug landed in Germany, he e-mailed his future tennis coach, inquiring about possible scholarship programs he could use to cover his costs. Mackay said there weren’t any available (at the time) and the deal was off.

However, two months later, Mackay found Haug a family to stay with. The journey back to America, was back on.

“Once I got here [Glendale], he [Mackay] helped me a lot with my tennis game. He helped me improve in so many different ways,” Haug said. “Without Coach Mackay, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to come here. I couldn’t afford living here and he found me a family to stay with.”

Haug finally boarded that flight that would take him from his humble hometown, but this time to Southern California, where he knew that life would yet again be different to what he had known.

“I was nervous.I knew that life in Las Vegas was completely different to life in Los Angeles.”

The road to Glendale was frustrating at times, however, Haug has always had the support of his loving parents Erich and Michaela.

“Without their support, I wouldn’t have had the courage to make it to America. They’ve just done so much for me; I don’t know how to thank them.”

Also joining Haug’s cause would be his eventual Vaquero teammate Ryan Stansbury who started talking to Haug right as Mackay broke the news of a German student wanting to play tennis for GCC.

“Bob [Mackay] contacted me about a student from Germany who was coming to Glendale college. ‘Did you want to get in touch with him?’ he asked me” Stansbury said.

“I said ‘Yeah, sure” and we talked about what tennis and life at Glendale College was like and what our interests were.”

What was difficult would be the possibility of not only having his visa revoked, a fear Haug has always had about traveling to a different country, but also learning a language he had lost mastery of after leaving the states for two years. But Haug remained steadfast in his determination.

“My brother always told me ‘Hau rein,'” Haug said. Roughly translated, “keep fighting.”
In January of 2008, Haug began his GCC career but this time around he knew that his stay in Glendale could be cut short if his academics and his tennis game fell victim to complacency and lethargy.

“These are the four years of my life that are key to my future and my job.” Haug said in reference to his two years spent at GCC and two years spent at his transfer school.

His first semester went by quickly taking spring classes and working on his tennis game, Haug quickly re-acquired his American mojo and dove headfirst into a culture he now calls home.

But as quickly as his fortunes started looking up, things took a turn for the worst.
His initial host family at the time was already at its tipping point. With three kids of their own, his hosts decided that they needed time for themselves, jeopardizing Haug’s future in America.

Haug would have found himself back in Germany on New Year’s Eve had Mackay not acted swiftly to find his star player a new home.

Mackay set up a practice match for Haug and invited potential host families out to watch him play. One of them, a 61-year-old woman from La Crescenta, was immediately taken back by the German international.

“I saw he had a lot of drive and talent,” Ruth McNiven said. “I’ve raised two sons before, so I knew what I was getting into. He’s got a wonderful attitude.”

A sigh of relief came for Haug, who now could once again re-focus himself on his academic and athletic goals thanks to his coach and the kindness of a woman who saw more than just a boy that could hit a green, fuzzy ball.

The new year came, and with his third semester on the horizon, Haug was looking forward to a season of success with his new teammates. Two games into the new tennis season, Haug’s future was hanging on by the very strings of his beloved racquet.

Haug tore his medial collateral and his anterior cruciate ligaments, which forced him to the sidelines for the entire season and rendered him unable to regain his season lost to his devastating injury.

“After I found out I couldn’t redshirt, I was like, ‘OK what do I do now?'” said Haug, “I constantly wondered ‘What if I don’t transfer, what if I don’t make it?'”

“It’s been an unfortuante season for Emmanuel.” Stansbury said. “What he’s going through is really difficult.”

Just when he thought it was all over, just when Haug felt like his time in America was torn like the ligaments in his right knee, salvation came in the form of a man he has not hesitated to call “dad.”

“I told Emmanuel ‘whether you get a scholarship or not, we’re going to help you finish your education here in America,'” said Johns, who works as a neurologist at a Las Vegas hospital.

Before his catastrophic knee injury, Haug had already been scouted by schools such as the University of Alabama.

“It’s all I focused on. I was on the court every day and if not the court, I would be in the gym. I was set on transferring on a high note.”

When things took a turn for the worst, Haug started to doubt his choice to leave the comforts of his home, his friends and his family.

If he had stayed, he would have attended the Technical University of Munich where he would have studied engineering and would have relatively good job security given he had passed his Abitur.

“It would have been so much easier and so much safer to stay in Germany” Haug said. “But I don’t regret it at all.”

What he knew before, he has reaffirmed now through the guidance of his coach, his host families and himself.

Patience, hard work and the fighting spirit gained from his three brothers have molded the boy who used to play tennis against his garage door into the man who today stands much taller than the Alps that tower over his home- town.