As tennis fans across the world focus on Flushing Meadows, New York for the 2015 US Open, enthusiasts in the area should take note that the locally run One Love Tennis Program will have a heavy presence at the historic event thanks to Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Famer Lenny Simpson.
As part of a special pre-tournament “Althea Gibson Week,” when the legendary Wilmington champion will be memorialized in the Big Apple, the documentary film “Althea” will be screened at a sunset reception on Friday, August 28, on the grass courts of West Side Tennis Club, site of her historic appearance there in 1956. Simpson, a protégé of Gibson, is a featured speaker at the event.
Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to win one of the four major singles tournaments and helped integrate her sport at the height of the Civil Rights movement. She twice won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships (now known as the U.S. Open).
“Althea opened doors that other African-American tennis players – including Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, Katrina Adams, Chanda Rubins, Venus and Serena Williams, James Blake, Sloan Stevens and I – would one day walk through,” Simpson said. “Communities all over the country can greatly benefit from programs like One Love Tennis. But is fitting that we grow and nurture these kinds of programs here in Wilmington and around the South.”
A public screening of “Althea” was held at Wilmington’s Thalian Hall on June 18. In 2014, through the efforts of Simpson and his One Love Tennis Program, the City of Wilmington also proclaimed the week beginning the second Monday of September each year to be “Althea Gibson Tennis Week.”
For those who were unable to catch the documentary in the Port City earlier this summer, a screening will be broadcast on the local PBS television station (WUNC in Wilmington) as part of the award-winning series, American Masters, at 9 p.m. on Friday, September 4.
“Those of you who saw the film at the One Love Tennis event at Thalian Hall this summer know it’s a very special documentation of the life of a very special American heroine – and a Wilmington icon,” Simpson added.
Meanwhile, after an extraordinary summer in which over 500 youngsters participated in the One Love Tennis program on area courts, Simpson is organizing his after-school program for even more local children.
“One Love Tennis continues to serve more and more at-risk kids, providing them positive activities and life-lessons, while having a lot of fun too,” Simpson said.