If you grew up in the Greater Alton area in the 1980s and 90s and played tennis at all you are surely familiar with the Andy Simpson Tennis Complex inside Gordon Moore Park.
It was the place to be for tennis in those days, playing host to the Bud Simpson Open and plenty of other tennis events from youth to high school to beyond. Unfortunately, the years haven't been good to the courts. Weather has left big cracks in them, making them dangerous to play on. They were last resurfaced by the City of Alton in 2006.
Enter the Simpson Memorial Tennis Program. This committee of passionate tennis aficionados is doing its best to save this great complex. The committee is comprised of Kathy Claywell, James Humphrey, Bill Diddlebock, Gene Ursprung, Mike Haynes, Nancy Simpson, Marv Adler and Nancy Ryrie.
Their goal is to revitalize the complex and youth tennis in the Greater Alton area to where it was in the courts' heyday.
“Back in its heyday the City of Alton was prominent in terms of its tennis tournaments and creating quite a draw of people who would come over and play,” Claywell said. “We want to fix them for the community as a whole, but we also want to restore the junior tennis program which we've worked on consistently over the years, even under the duress of those courts. We want to improve the junior tennis program and we have a lot of kids that play tennis at both Alton High and Marquette and their goal is to go on to play college tennis. If we put down a foundation with our junior program it only supports the growth and talent that the kids carry on through high school.”
The number the committee is looking for is $70,000. Currently they have only raised $4,179. A grant was in place from former Illinois governor Pat Quinn for $60,000, but was recently rejected, leaving the Simpson Committee in limbo. Raising awareness is half the battle according to Claywell.
“We're trying to raise awareness for our project,” Claywell said. “Right now we're just trying to get the message out and we're hopeful to put a tennis benefit together on Aug. 15 to raise funds for the restoration of the courts. Right now that's where we are. We were pretty much stalled. We didn't find out we weren't getting the grant until the end of May or beginning of June.”
Recent discussions with Alton Mayor Brant Walker have been started for a possible small mixed doubles tournament at the Simpson Complex on Aug. 15. The public will be invited to see the state of the courts and learn about the history of the complex also. The committee hopes to to have food available and make it a fun event.
The Bud Simpson Open on June 26-28, the Alton Open on July 10-12 and the Alton Junior Open on Aug. 7-9 are all in place already to help raise funds for the committee.
A website where donations can be made and more information about the Simpson Complex and what the committee is doing can be found at www.simpsontennis.org. The committee has a not-for-profit status set up with the City of Alton for donations.
“Dr. Gordon Moore put that park in place and Andy Simpson with her donations put in the tennis courts and the grandstands, but we can no longer rely on individual people to sustain that tennis facility,” Claywell said. “We need to have decent tennis courts to pull people back into Alton who want to come here and play in our tennis tournaments because they're run pretty well. We're proud of our tournaments.”
And the Alton community should be proud of its rich tennis tradition.