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Celebration honors restored, legendary tennis court and Dr. Robert Walter Johnson

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) -- A historic Lynchburg tennis court where several international champions got their start is coming back to life after nearly five decades.

A big crowd came out on May 24, 2018, to celebrate the unveiling of Dr. Robert Walter "Whirlwind" Johnson's restored tennis court on Pierce Street.

It's where he opened doors for African Americans who had no access to tennis courts.

After Dr. Johnson died in 1971, the court sat unused and uncared for. Now, nearly 50 years later, they'll use the court to inspire the next generation of tennis players.

"It's just refreshing to see this court restored and ultimately this property be restored, because it was critical to moving not only the sport of tennis ahead, but African Americans, in general," said Lange Johnson, his grandson.

"I again am very thankful and happy God blessed me to be here to see this day," said Dr. Johnson's daughter, Waltee Johnson Moore.

Dr. Johnson helped train many players in his junior development league, like legends Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson.

Several of his trainees shared their stories.

"This man had an ethic that just rubbed off on all of us, and you were bound to embrace it," said Ann Koger, a champion tennis player and revered coach.

Henry Kennedy, another champion trained by the Whirlwind, went on to serve as a federal judge. He quoted some of Dr. Johnson's words.

"More important than the will to win, itself a necessary ingredient for success, is the will to prepare to win," he said.

They also shared several laughs, as they remembered times spent with their coach and mentor.

"When I played on that court, those lines were not that straight. I will tell you that right now," joked Lendward Simpson, another champion player and the executive director of the One Love Tennis Foundation.

"It's just a momentous day and it's a tremendous honor to be representing the family and be central to what's going on here," Lange Johnson said," adding the shed and home will also be restored in the near future.

Some kids will learn to play tennis there through a pilot program with the Diamond Hill Recreation Center this fall, playing a role in keeping Dr. Johnson's legacy alive.

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