Vineyard Youth Tennis grows up
At 2:20 on an early spring afternoon, Vineyard Youth Tennis is empty, almost dormant. There is one car in the parking lot, four empty tennis courts, and an almost hollow clubhouse building. But two hours later the lot is half full and the place is buzzing - especially on the courts in "the bubble."
If you're an Islander under 18 years old and your parents know a great idea when it smacks them in the face, let alone the difference between a drop shot and a lob, chances are you've been part of that buzz at some point in the last seven years.
The brainchild of Gerald DeBlois, a tennis enthusiast who owns a summer home in West Tisbury, The Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT) Foundation started working its magic on the Island in 1997, when free tennis lessons were offered to young Islanders at the West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs schools. By 2002 VYT had a permanent 12-acre home off Barnes Road just south of the four-way blinker intersection - after running the regulatory gauntlet and persuading neighbors and another tennis establishment that they wouldn't ruin the area or the game. And what a home it is: a small but smart-looking clubhouse and four fine "clay" Har-tru courts, two of them in play year-round, thanks to the protection of an inflatable fabric dome with a profile like the top of a muffin - the bubble.
What's more remarkable even than VYT's physical plant is its mission: "Vineyard Youth Tennis introduces the children of Martha's Vineyard to the sport of tennis by providing free tennis lessons and court time at its own purpose-built tennis facility. A staff of trained tennis pros teaches tennis to children from age 5 to 18, at every level, year round. The purpose of this charitable organization is to make tennis a "life sport" for kids by providing expert professional instruction, and to teach the values of sportsmanship, healthy competition, and mutual respect."
VYT is funded entirely by a trust established by Mr. DeBlois. Not only instruction and court time, but also racquets, shorts, and tee-shirts are provided free of charge. "It's such a unique spot," says executive director Scott Smith. "I've been around a long time in tennis, and it's the first place I've seen of this type."
Not your average club
Some of the children who play at VYT call it a club, but it has nothing in common with most clubs. There are neither dues, nor fees, and the only membership requirement is that children be full-time Island residents.
Now, after seven years of maturation, VYT is sprouting new shoots. "Most of the kids here play because it's social, and it's fun, and it's a sport for a lifetime," says Mr. Smith, "but now we have some up-and-coming kids who have become better players, and they really want to go somewhere with it."