‘Althea’ documentary to be shown as part of Althea Gibson Tennis Week

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As part of ‘Althea Gibson Tennis Week’ in Wilmington, the documentary ‘Althea’ will be shown 6-9 p.m. tonight inside Lumina Theatre on the UNCW campus. The film debuted on the PBS network on Friday as part of the American Master Series and during a special pre-tournament celebration at Forest Hills Tennis Club in New York leading to the 2015 U.S. Open.

“Sponsored by One Love Tennis program and Upperman African American Cultural Center, we invite you to come out tonight to enjoy the documentary,” said One Love Tennis Founder and Director Lenny Simpson. “The final version of documentary is even more informative and better than what was seen in June at Thalian Hall. Come and join us to keep this great legacy of Althea Gibson alive and well, one of our very own.”

The Althea Gibson commemorative stamp became available around the United States last year.
The Althea Gibson commemorative stamp became available around the United States last year.

In 2014, Mayor Bill Saffo and City of Wilmington proclaimed the week beginning the second Monday of September each year “Althea Gibson Tennis Week” to honor the legacy of the Wilmington sports icon.

Simpson’s story is personally and historically intertwined with the legacies of the barrier breaking tennis greats Gibson and Arthur Ashe.

In 1953, a five-year old Simpson heard the tennis balls on Dr. Hubert Eaton’s tennis court nearby and was taken over by a neighbor, Nathaniel Jackson. Gibson happened to be   practicing and coaxed him into playing.

At  the age of nine, Simpson joined the ATA Junior  Development team, traveling and rooming with Ashe. He played in the US Open Championships 1964-66 and at Wimbledon in 1974. In 1964, Simpson became the youngest male at the age of 15 (black or white) to win a first round match at the national championships in Forest Hills (then called the US Nationals). He held that record for over 20 years until Michael Chang set the new mark in 1987.

Lenny Simpson.
Lenny Simpson.

Simpson and Dr. Eaton joined Gibson and Ashe in the Black Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014.

The film was produced and directed by North Carolina Emmy and Peabody Awarding winning cinematographer/director Rex Miller. Much of the film takes place in Wilmington and some providing funding for the documentary came from the area community. An early version of ‘Althea’ was shown to over 10,000 public and private high school student in New Hanover County last year as part of the Althea Gibson Tennis Week Initiative.

Following years of work in Tennessee, Simpson returned to his native Wilmington and began the One Love Tennis program as a way to get more youngsters involved in the sport. On August 21, the Wilmington Junior team coached by Simpson won nationals for the Southern Junior Team Tennis 10 and under Advanced Division near Columbia, South Carolina.

The team consisted of Shark Baynard, Augie Ballentine, Jack Snyder, Hayes Gilbert, Peyton Philemon, Sloane Woolwine, Elena Berg, and Lucy Dimock.