WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A home where tennis great Althea Gibson once trained will become the new headquarters for One Love Tennis.
The property located at 1406 Orange Street was purchased with donations, including a $50,000 contribution from Michael Jordan.
"We are so thankful to have the most widely known name in the entire world and here he is putting his faith and belief in his hometown and being a partner with One Love Tennis to help us accomplish this dream," said Lenny Simpson, founder of One Love Tennis.
The purchase of the property has special meaning for Simpson.
He grew up around the corner from the Eaton home. The tennis courts were just feet away from his backyard. Simpson, who went on to become a professional tennis player, practiced there every day.
"I had that opportunity to come here at Dr. Hubert Eaton's home, which was known as our black country club in Wilmington because we certainly could not go to any of the country clubs or any of the tennis facilities in Wilmington, North Carolina," Simpson said.
Black kids had nowhere to go. All the tennis courts in the city were off limits.
"Two blocks from here, New Hanover High School tennis courts. Two blocks from here that we can almost look at from this porch, could not play on them," Simpson said. "There were no tennis courts that black people could play on in this town, anywhere. Hugh McRae Park, Empie Park which is now the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex, nowhere."
The courts in the backyard of the Eaton home are now covered with grass, but Simpson says they will be restored and refurbished.
"There is a clay court underneath this grass area," Simpson said. "We are going to totally restore it, clean the fence up and bring it back to its original gray color. We're keeping everything as original as we possibly can."
Simpson says it's fitting that One Love Tennis will be headquartered in the late Dr. Eaton's home. He says Eaton and another prominent physician from Virginia were the reason that he, Althea Gibson and even Arthur Ashe went on to play professional tennis. All of them trained with both doctors.
Ashe also trained on the courts off Orange Street when he was in high school.
Referring to them as the black godfathers of tennis, Simpson said they were ahead of their time.
"Way before their time. I mean, this was 65 years ago," Simpson said. "Dr. Johnson and Dr. Eaton had a One Love Tennis program 65 years ago that I am just trying to emulate in my own little way to keep this legacy going that Dr. Hubert Eaton's name will never be forgotten in this town. This legacy and this home will never be forgotten in this town and will go on forever."