Lenny Simpson to be inducted into Southern Tennis Hall of Fame

ATLANTA, GA (USTA) The Southern Tennis Foundation and USTA Southern announced today three tennis luminaries are scheduled for induction into the 2020 class of the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame.

Lenny Simpson, the founder of One Love, an award-winning tennis organization, and a former standout junior and adult player. In 1964, he was the youngest male player to play in the US Open, a record that stood for about 40 years.

Others to be inducted are:

  • Jaime Kaplan was a ball person at a pro tournament in her hometown of Macon, Ga., at the age of 9. She immediately set her sights on becoming a pro tennis player. She would reach that goal in 1983 when she began her WTA career, reaching No. 91 in the world in doubles.
  • Jack Tuero was a leading player at Tulane University during its domination of the SEC men’s tennis in the 1940s and 1950s. He was the NCAA singles champion in 1949. As a pro, he reached the second round of the US Open in 1954. He died in 2004.

They are scheduled to be inducted January 18, 2020, during the Lucy Garvin Southern Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, in Atlanta.

Established in 1977 with the induction of Bitsy Grant and Ham Richardson, the Hall of Fame will grow to 110 members after the induction ceremony. Other notable members include Stan Smith, Chanda Rubin, Roscoe Tanner, Gordon A. Smith, Linda Tuero (Jack Tuero’s niece), Gardner Mulloy and Garvin. The Southern Tennis Foundation’s website contains information on the hall, inductees and its charitable mission. The hall is located in the USTA Southern offices in Peachtree Corners, Ga.

Lenny Simpson

Pioneer Professional and Community Organizer

Lendward “Lenny” Simpson was first introduced to the game of tennis at age 5. His parents’ backyard in Wilmington, N.C., backed up to the property of Dr. Hubert Eaton, a local physician. The property featured a pool, three-car garage and, most notably, a first-class clay tennis court. The Eatons’ property was known as the “Black Country Club.” During the Jim Crow era, the many local parks were for whites only. Even the one park designated for blacks had whites-only tennis courts. Eaton’s court was the only court available to blacks and then only to a privileged few.

Simpson’s introduction to this court came via a friend and next-door neighbor, Nathaniel Jackson. A 20-time ATA national champion, Jackson escorted Simpson onto the property through the big side gates and introduced him to five-time Grand Slam singles champion Althea Gibson. The first thing Gibson said to him was, “Hello, Champ. What took you so long?” She then handed Simpson his first tennis racket.

In 1957, Simpson played in his first tournament at age 8 and, surprisingly, won the 11 & Under Doubles. At age 9, recommended by Gibson, Jackson and Eaton, Simpson joined Dr. Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson’s ATA Junior Development Team to develop his tennis talents. A young Arthur Ashe was also on the team. They travelled the country together as top junior players, living through countless nights of struggles to find accommodations in the South. They ended up staying in segregated YMCAs. Sometimes they drove through the night to a tournament for which they were qualified, only to be told they could not play.

Partnered at age 9 with Bonnie Logan in mixed doubles, the pair never lost a match and won several ATA titles. Simpson was said to have “spring movement.” This ability helped him receive an academic and athletic scholarship to attend two of the best prep schools in the country, the Hill School in Pennsylvania and Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. There he won the National Prep School Championships and was on the “Who’s-Who” list in America for tennis, soccer and basketball. Simpson was the ATA National Boys’ singles & men’s doubles champion 1964-67. With his doubles partner, Luis Glass, Simpson was in the top 10 of every age group in singles and doubles from the 10s to 18s at the Boys’ National Championships. With their success in doubles, both Simpson and Glass were nominated for the US Junior Davis Cup Team. Simpson was selected as the No. 1 player to represent North Carolina in a rivalry match versus South Carolina. He defeated Dick Stockton in the Eastern Boys’ Championships in Forest Hills, NY, to qualify for the US Nationals.

In 1964, Simpson played his first of three consecutive U.S. National Championships, known today as the US Open. He was at the time, and for some 40 years following, the youngest male to play in the prestigious tournament.

Simpson accepted an academic and athletic scholarship to East Tennessee State University where he played from 1968-72 and won four ATA mixed doubles titles. With a double major in psychology and physical education, he also earned the ETSU “Who’s-Who” in America in tennis and basketball. He was the Ohio Valley Conference champion in singles & doubles and coached the team in 1972-73.

Simpson was the Director of Tennis at the Square Lake Racquet Club in West Bloomfield, Mich., and helped run the Michigan Junior Development Program. Simpson turned pro in 1974 and was the first black player in World Team Tennis, playing for the Detroit Loves. Simpson has produced over 65 exhibition matches and events with the first featuring Billie Jean King and Hana Mandlíková in 1980. It was the 2012 Azalea Festival that brought him back to Wilmington, N.C., for an exhibition match with John McEnroe, Todd Martin, Chanda Rubin and Katrina Adams. Invited to be a special celebrity guest and sit in a VIP section along the Third Street parade route, he reflected on being a young boy sitting on the curb in hopes of catching a piece of candy during the parade and being called every derogatory name in the book. Now, he would soon be sitting where he never felt welcomed before.

2013 saw the founding of the Lenny Simpson Tennis & Education Fund (LSTEF), a not-for-profit focused on working with at-risk kids in Wilmington and beyond. The primary program of the LSTEF is One Love Tennis. One Love travels to all the city centers and afterschool programs, bringing tennis instruction and an academic enrichment program to develop kids both academically and athletically after school. They hold camps in the mornings during the summer, peaking at over 550 kids a week.

One Love has received awards from the USTA, USTA North Carolina and USTA Southern for its academic enrichment program and was awarded the USTA North Carolina NJTL Chapter of the Year. One Love was invited to have front-row seats at the USTA National Tennis Center for the Althea Gibson Statue unveiling ceremony. It was the 40 letters written by One Love kids in 2017 demanding recognition for Althea Gibson at the US Open that helped make the statue of Althea Gibson a reality, unveiled in 2019. These kids will forever be a part of history.

One Love brought the Breaking the Barriers Exhibit to Wilmington for display during Black History Month as Simpson was also featured in the International Tennis Hall of Fame Breaking the Barriers Exhibit.

He is the host of his own live morning radio show each week called “Tennis Tuesdays,” covering all matters tennis.

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.

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of One Love is the purchase of the former Eaton property. A complete restoration saw the court reopen for use in 2019 as the “home court” for One Love kids. Simpson and his wife, JoAnn, will reside in the home as caretakers of the property, protecting and sharing the legacy of those who lived, trained and played there. His accomplishments and honors include:

  • Awarded the USTA NJTL Founder’s Service Award, USTA North Carolina Educational Merit Award, USTA Southern Educational Merit Award, USTA Southern Marilyn Sherman Spirit Award, USTA North Carolina NJTL Chapter of the Year, Wilmington Community Service Award and selected for the USTA Foundation NJTL 50 For 50
  • 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
  • Ranked top 10 nationally in every junior age group in singles & doubles
  • Captain of the Eastern Tennessee State University tennis team 1968–72 and listed in the “Who’s-Who” in America athletes in tennis and basketball
  • Ohio Valley Conference Champion in singles & doubles
  • Entered the Pro Tour in 1974 as the first African American to play World Team Tennis on the Detroit Loves
  • Served as Tennis Director for Nick Bollettieri junior and adult tennis camps
  • Founder of the Lenny Simpson Tennis & Education Fund, which includes One Love
  • Owner and caretaker of 1406 Orange St., Wilmington, N.C, the former home of Dr. Hubert Eaton
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