Updated July 3
Scott Smith has been at the helm 12 years as executive director of the remarkably successful and nationally recognized Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT) program, but on August 15, Smith says goodbye to the courts on Barnes Road and begins his new adventure at the Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La., as its new director of tennis.
“A big thank you to Gerry DeBlois [VYT benefactor] for hiring me and taking a chance on me in 2006,” Smith told The Times via telephone Thursday afternoon. “We are extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished here, and of course we could not have achieved the success without the help of Michael [Hallisky], Nina [Bramhall], Tyler [Owens], and all the junior pros we’ve had working for us. We have had great staff over the years.”
Smith is extremely proud of the six state championships that the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) varsity boys and girls tennis teams have achieved collectively. The girls were Division 3 state champs in 2015, 2016, and 2017, as well as Division 2 state champs in 2018; the boys were Division 3 state champs in 2012 and 2013.
Current head pro Michael Hallisky will be taking over as director of VYT in September, until the following September.
“Scott has done a lot for the Island, bringing a lot of kids to the game of tennis, and he has been a good administrator at every club I have worked with him at in the 15 years we have been together,” Michael told The Times via text Monday morning.
“It will be an interesting year,” Hallisky said when asked if he looks forward to taking over VYT.
“We’re terrifically grateful to him for the years that he put into guiding the program,” Chris Scott, VYT chairman, treasurer, and father of MVRHS tennis player Victoria Scott, told The Times via telephone Monday morning. “Because of Gerry DeBlois’ generosity, Scott had free rein to develop a program to put a racquet into the hands of every Island child who wanted to do it — and sort of unexpectedly, a number of them have become really good tennis players.”
Along with VYT being able to take some credit for the extraordinary success of both the girls and boys varsity high school tennis teams in recent years — with many of the current tennis stars having been in the VYT program since they were 6 or 7 years old — Smith also founded Martha’s Vineyard Community Tennis (MVCT) about 10 years ago, which helped in charitable ways on the Island.
“His leadership and his organizational skills will be missed greatly,” Anne Williamson, mom of MVRHS recent graduate and varsity tennis player Lizzie Williamson, told The Times Sunday evening. Lizzie never lost a match in her high school career. “I felt like it was a community center, not just a place to drop your child. “
“As a parent, things I have appreciated about Scott are his high standards for the players,” Williamson continued. “He likes to have fun with the students, but he really cares about the shots and the quality of how they’re hitting the ball — starting at age 5 and up to age 18, Scott has given Lizzie feedback, and has really helped her as a player.”
Williamson added that Smith really involved the parents in the sport, and that VYT has taught life lessons such as perseverance and teamwork, and that when things get hard, to work harder.
The early days
Smith had been at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club (VHYC) for two summers and in Florida prior to his VYT start in 2006. VYT was established in 2002, and was run by Gordie Ernst, who left in 2006 to coach Georgetown University tennis.
“At the time, the kids would play six weeks, and then were told not to come back [in order for other kids to have a chance],” Smith told The Times. “But I basically said, ‘How do you develop players if the kids are doing well and you ask them not to come back?’”
At that point, Smith developed the Tournament Team (former Future Stars who commit to playing three USTA sanctioned tournaments every four months) and the Future Stars (second through fifth grade) programs, where those kids who were identified with talent, athletic ability, love of the game, and supportive parents were exempt from registration; they were automatically enrolled going forward.
“This is how the talent came about,” Smith said, adding that many of the current MVRHS players started when they were very young, and played two to three times a week “year in and year out.”
After the Tournament Team, the kids move on to high school tennis, and “obviously our kids seem to be above average when they go to the high school level, and they hit the ground running,” Smith said.
Smith is grateful for and proud of having taught “thousands of children” over the past 12 years. “I was just thinking the other day of all the kids I’ve personally been on the court with, and seeing them graduate from high school, and now even seeing them graduate from college has been rewarding,” Smith said.
Smith was also very involved in organizing women’s clinics on the Island during school days.
“It’s almost to the point where anyone who’s on the Island year-round I’ve either taught their kids or I’ve taught themselves. I’ve started hundreds of ladies playing, and they are still playing and doing well, and are competitive. I’m very proud of that.”
In addition, Smith brought former pros to the Island for various events, including the famous professional tennis coach Nick Bollettieri visiting three times, as well as Jimmy Arias, Tim Mayotte, and Gigi Fernandez. Smith also founded the MVTC Pro-Am event (professionals paired with amateur local players), which was popular.
“The Island really didn’t have a lot of that kind of stuff until I started creating that excitement, and that was sort of fun to be a part of,” Smith said.
“I pinch myself sometimes to think that the coach of the Bryan brothers came to VYT and hit balls with Elizabeth,” Ms. Williamson said.
“I’m looking back on all the things that I was able to do, and had the freedom to do,” Smith told The Times, “including the VYT Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to kids to attend tennis camps who could not normally afford it, and giving kids money to offset college expenses [which was all based on attendance, and if they held themselves “professional and accountable”]. We created tennis excitement on the Island, and I’m sure there are a lot more tennis players now than when I first got here 12 years ago,” Smith said.
The future of VYT is uncertain at this time, as DeBlois will not be funding the program any longer, and they are still exploring options. VYT is currently running on what money they already have, and then what they can bring in through fundraising and grants.
“It’s still up in the air, and they are still going to try to keep the program running, but there’s nothing set in stone,” Smith told The Times. Smith’s contract is about to expire, but Michael Hallisky’s contract extends two years further, and Hallisky will be running VYT after Smith departs.
In terms of the possibility of the YMCA taking over, Smith said he thinks they “just need more time and [want to] evaluate it a bit longer.”
The central issue right now is that the model has been a single donor supporting the program, which is about to end. Scott said that now the program must move to a more typical model like other youth sporting programs on-Island use.
“Amending our permits that we operate under is going to be essential for the continued viability of the operation,” Scott said. He added there is a commitment to a youth component of the facility, but that adults will need to be able to play there for a fee to offset the cost of giving instruction to kids. The community has given him positive feedback on this topic.
Scott said that no child will be turned away, but they must face the reality of staff salaries, overhead, and facility costs. VYT operates under a special permit, and has been working with the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen.
“It’s a process that’s going to play out over the next few months, and I’m optimistic that the town will give us the ability to continue the program,” Scott said.
“I feel [VYT] is a gift that we are forever grateful for as a family, and I just think Scott [Smith] had the energy and commitment to bring it to a top-notch standard,” Ms. Williamson said. “He has seemed to wear many, many hats through the years, and I will really miss him.”
Chris Scott joined this sentiment: “[Smith] created a program that achieved so much, not only in terms of tennis instruction, but in terms of qualities and growth that are so important for a child — commitment, responsibility, sportsmanship — it’s been a really great experience, and we wish him the best.”
Smith is looking forward to what is ahead: “My wife and I are excited for our new adventure, meeting new people, developing the junior program, and just trying to put tennis on the map there, basically like I did here.”
Updated to correct quotes that were misattributed. -Ed