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Satisfied with the first steps of his training, Jackson, Eaton and Gibson began coaching Simpson. The three of them would stand next to him instructing him to hit off the backboard. S One day, Jackson saw the boy under the bushes and asked, “Lendward, does your mom know you’re here?” “No.” “Well, you may want to go home.” “No, I want to stay and look.” “OK.” This went on for a week. That’s when Simpson learned how Coca-Colas were distributed. He explains: “If you lost a match six to zero, or ‘love’ as it’s known in tennis, they call it putting a collar around your neck. And you had to buy Coca-Colas for everybody at the court.” The next time Jackson walked down the sidewalk drinking a Coke, Simpson told him he wanted to From top: Dr. Eaton, left, plays tennis with Nathaniel Jackson, right, whom Simpson credits with first asking if he would like to learn to play tennis. Jackson was a former ATA national singles and doubles champion. Althea Gibson, left, and her guardian and mentor Dr. Eaton, right, at Eaton’s home court, Orange Street, WIlmington. 60 WBM february 2015 play tennis. Simpson asked Jackson to talk to his mother about the plan. The answer was still “no.” But Simpson told her, “You can spank me. I’m going over there anyway.” For two weeks, he defied his mother and went to Eaton’s tennis court. And for two weeks, he got a spanking every day. Finally, his mother concluded if her son was willing to pay the price for disobeying her, she would let him play tennis. Jackson took Simpson to the court every day. Training started with running balls, learning how to keep score, brushing the court, sweeping the lines, watching and learning. “I had to have a work job,” Simpson says. After everyone was finished playing, more than an hour or two later, he would go to the store on the corner of 15th and Orange streets to buy the all-important Coca-Colas. Satisfied with the first steps of his training, Jackson, Eaton and Gibson began coaching Simpson. The three of them would stand next to him instructing him to hit off the backboard. “They taught me discipline, structure, hitting off that backboard, watching the ball, back and forth, back and forth,” Simpson says. They told him before he was allowed to hit across the net, he had to beat the backboard. “I didn’t realize nobody beats that backboard. That’s what it’s called … backboard. Because when you hit it, it’s coming back!” Simpson says. He took on the challenge, and says, “It was two years before I hit a ball over the net.” As lessons progressed, Simpson realized he was watching the greatest female ever to play the game of tennis. Eaton was recruiting similar talent in Wilmington. He had discovered 19-year-old Althea Gibson in Harlem, New York. She had a poor home life and wasn’t attending school. Eaton became her guardian and brought her to Wilmington, where she attended Williston High School. He asked Jackson about her. Jackson said, “You know, you’ve got Althea Gibson, who is probably going to be the next world champion, coaching you and teaching you the game of tennis.” Simpson embraced the chance to learn tennis from this group and began to play matches against them. COURTESY OF STAR NEWS ARCHIVES, NEW HANOVER COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY


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