Cathy Simpson didn't pick up a tennis racquet until she was 25 years old.
She was a life-long athlete – she played basketball, volleyball and other sports – but not tennis. Not until her cousin took her to the courts in Danville, Ill.
Her life changed that day.
She found a new sport. She found a sport that would soon be her livelihood. And she also found a husband.
Well, not at first. When Cathy met Scott Simpson, a USPTA Elite Professional, he was the director of tennis at Danville Tennis Club.
“I went from a 2.5 player to a 5.0 player in about 10 years,” Cathy said. “Just started helping him work. I was his assistant for about seven years. The rest is history.
“Scott could tell that I worked well with kids so he asked if I would be interested in helping. As I was moving up the ranks with my player level, he said I should go get tested and try to get certified and I did. I think this is my 26th year with the USPTA. I just totally fell in love with the game and wanted to continue to work with kids. It’s just been great.”
Scott stayed at Danville until 2002, when he moved to Champaign Country Club. A few years after that, Cathy took Scott’s old job as director of tennis at Danville, which she made hers over 10 years. Then two years ago, Cathy, also an Elite Professional, moved over to Champaign CC. That way, they could keep coaching lessons together.
“One of our philosophies that we’ve really been emphasizing is fun,” Scott said. “The people just like being together. We could’ve used all four courts but they preferred the camaraderie of being together on a couple courts. We work great together. She’s so easy to get along with. We don’t ever have any problems at all.”
“That was the hard part when I was running Danville, was not getting to work together as much,” she said. “Now we’re both getting to work together all summer long. We both love that.”
In March, the couple will celebrate 20 years of marriage.
$1.97 for life
Tennis wasn’t always part of Scott’s life, either.
He was about 13 years old, and a few friends were playing tennis. As soon as he joined them, he fell in love. So he got a racquet of his own.
“I bought a $1.97 racquet and broke it the first time I played,” he said. “Not temper, it was just a cheap racquet.”
He stuck with tennis, though, evidently long enough to make history.
“In 1982 my brother and I broke the world record for continuous play by a doubles team,” Scott said. “We played 108 hours and two minutes. We raised over $5,000 for the American Cancer Society.”
The rules allowed for five minutes of rest for every hour played. They took their first respite after 42 consecutive hours.
Scott’s brother, Tom, is the head tennis coach at Coker University. His sister, Kerry, played tennis at Ball State. Tom’s son, Billy, is the head pro at a club in Columbia, S.C.
Scott and Cathy have five kids from previous marriages. Tara and Amy, the oldest, are Scott’s. Then come Tony and Kayla, Cathy’s kids. Chad, Scott’s son, is six months younger than Kayla.
They were blessed, they said, at how seamlessly their families came together.
“My kids love Cathy and her kids love me,” Scott said. “We have 13 grandkids between the two of us.”
Expose, but don’t push
It can be difficult for coaches not to get caught up coaching their own kids. But Scott and Cathy found a way to balance the two.
“Somehow he was able to do both, be a dad and still be my coach,” Chad Simpson said. “I think just his emphasis on sportsmanship, honoring the game. It wasn’t to be No. 1 in all these rankings or you have to win every match or beat your arch rival. It was just, go out and give your best effort, have good sportsmanship. And he always said he’d be proud of me.”
Chad is in his fifth season as head coach at Point University in Georgia. He and his wife, Emily, have three small children.
And for each of their first birthdays, just like the rest of their grandkids’, Scott and Cathy got them a tennis racquet.
“They’re getting exposed to it,” Scott said. “That’s the key, is not to push. Expose them, but don’t push them.”
Their philosophy appears to be paying off. Their oldest grandson, one of five adopted boys of Tara, qualified for the Illinois state high school tennis tournament two years ago.
“Four generations of playing tennis,” Scott said. “Kinda neat.”
Today, the family is spread across the country. They were mostly able to get together over Thanksgiving, though. And even though it can be difficult to get everyone together, what they taught their kids and grandkids will be with them for the rest of their lives.
“The way he always evaluated me was, I’d come off the court from a match and he’d go through it,” Chad said. “How was your preparation, short-term and long-term? How is your effort, mental and physical? And how is your sportsmanship?
“I think that was building to me and to my heart and to my character more than just being able to win a match,” Chad said. “The integrity and the character that he, not just said was important but took me through a process as a developing youngster. That impacted me. Now as a coach, that’s what I’m here to do, to impact young men and women to be their best and prepare them to go lead in homes and the workplace and their communities.”