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www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM S 65 Simpson, feet barely touching the floor, replied, “Ashe! Why aren’t you angry?” Ashe said, “Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve got a match to play in 45 minutes. Do I want to play this match? No. Is it right? No. But I’m going to take a shower, get myself together and we are going to walk back across campus and I’m going to play this match. By the time I come back downstairs I want you to choose what you’re going to do. Are you going to sit here and be angry and bitter ... that you can’t do anything else in the tennis world or are you going to let this go and use it to your benefit?” “I was 13.” Simpson says, voice cracking, “I still get emotional about that.” Simpson chose to continue to play tennis and to continue the fight. Ashe lost the match to Eugene Scott, but still made the Junior Davis Cup team. Simpson’s career could have gone either way at that point. But because of Ashe’s influence, his life was changed. Simpson’s career really took off when he was 15. In 1964, he played his first US Open, the youngest male ever to play at the time. He held that record until 1987 when Michael Chang became the youngest player, by three months. “I’m 15, playing at the US Open in Forest Hills New York where blacks are not allowed to be members of that club. Arthur Ashe had played before me. Althea Gibson had broken the barrier before that, for Ashe. Ashe, for me,” Simpson says. “I played Arthur Ashe in the second round. This was the first time two African-American males had ever played against each other in a major tennis championship.” (The next time that happened was in 2007 between Donald Young and James Blake, but it hasn’t happened since then.) Ashe was seeded at the time and won the match. “We were supposed to play on the stadium court, but they were running late and we had to play on the grandstand court. To this day, I’m so grateful because I never would have made it because I was so nervous about playing in the stadium,” Simpson says. “The grand mecca of tennis in the United States. Everything is white. The tennis balls are white. The clothes are white. The shoes are white. All the people watching are white. I’m 15. But Dr. Johnson and Dr. Eaton prepared us for this moment.” Simpson would play the US Open again in 1965, winning his first-round match, and in 1966. Ashe, Simpson and his teammates, Luis Glass and Bonnie Logan, continued play-ing other major tournaments, qualified for Wimbledon, played the circuit and worked to rise in the ranks. Ashe continued to coach and mentor Simpson. Left: Arthur Ashe, left, and Lenny Simpson, right, during a 1982 reception in Knoxville, Tennessee. Simpson invited Ashe to attend the event, part of a statewide high school coaches workshop and clinic. Center: The 1963 Hill School prep tennis team, where Simpson attended eighth and ninth grades on academic and athletic scholarships. Simpson is pictured in the middle of the top row. Pictured in the bottom row on the left is William “Bill” Oliver Stone, later a renowned film director. Right: Simpson, second from right, pictured with peers from Cheshire Academy in 1967, where he attended tenth, 11th and 12th grades. Shown here as treasurer, Simpson was elected class officer each year he attended.


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