Lendward “Lenny” Simpson, Jr., a Wilmington native, had the good fortune to be the next door neighbor to Nathaniel Jackson and to Dr. Hubert Eaton, who at the time was coaching Althea Gibson. With encouragement from all three, the 8 year old Lenny began to improve his tennis skills and he caught the eye of Dr. R. Walter Johnson, a legend who found the best African American athletes he could and introduced them to competitive tennis via his Junior Development Team. In 1964, Lenny defeated Dick Stockton to win the singles title at the US Lawn Tennis Association’s Eastern Boy’s 14s Championships in Forest Hills. Later that same year, he became the youngest male player, at that time, to ever play at the U. S. National Championships (now known as the US Open). He won his first round match but would lose to longtime mentor and friend Arthur Ashe in the second round.
Lenny’s talent on the court secured an academic/athletic scholarship to attend prep school at Cheshire Academy where he played no. 1. He became the first person to be inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. Lenny next attended East Tennessee State University where he earned a BS in Physical Education and Psychology. Outside the classrooms of ETSU, he played no. 1 singles and doubles throughout his collegiate career. He claimed Ohio Valley Conference titles (singles and doubles), reached the NCAA quarterfinals, captained the tennis team(1968-1972), and coached the tennis team (1972-1973). In 1973, Lenny entered the professional tour and became the first African American player to compete in World Team Tennis, signing with the Detroit Loves. Starting in 1977, he became a tennis instructor and eventually settled in Knoxville, TN where he would realize his dream of owning a tennis facility, as coowner of Center Court Racquet Club.
Currently, Lendward Simpson is the owner of Simpson & Associates which organizes tennis exhibitions across the country. He serves as co-chair with George Rountree for the Althea Gibson Tennis Center’s Annual Charitable Fundraiser.
Lenny uses tennis as a ministry to instill values, character and life skills for adult and junior students. It has been his goal to help every student reach their highest potential, no matter the skill level. He has taken to heart the words of Arthur Ashe: “The way to thank me is to make sure to continue the tradition by helping any up and coming player that wants an opportunity to play the great game of tennis.”