WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Lenny Simpson has been selected to the 2020 class of the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame.
Simpson, is the founder of One Love Tennis, an organization that uses tennis to develop education and athletic opportunities for at-risk youth.
Simpson’s historic tennis career began in Wilmington in 1953 when at age 5, he was visiting neighbor Dr. Hubert Eaton’s tennis court where Althea Gibson happened to be practicing. The groundbreaking tennis Grand Slam Champion coaxed him into playing.
Simpson was ranked in the top 10 nationally in every age group as a junior in singles and in doubles. In the early 60′s, he won the ATA National Boy’s Singles and Doubles Championships and played the U.S. Open Championships in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Simpson won the 1964 USLTA Eastern Boys 14 and under singles title at Forest Hills. Later that same year, at age 15, he became the youngest male to ever play at the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills.
Simpson turned professional in 1973 and was the first African-American to play World Team Tennis for the Detroit Loves. Simpson qualified for Wimbledon in 1974.
Simpson says it wasn’t easy being a black man who played tennis.
“What I had to go through to play the game of tennis. Just to hit a tennis ball. Everything was white. The tennis ball was white. The t-shirts were white. The shorts were white. The shoes were white. All the people in the stands were white.”
Simpson has been inducted into the Cheshire Academy Hall of Fame, the Hill School Hall of Fame (for basketball), the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.