Vineyard Youth Tennis – 10 years old with plans to grow

Vineyard Youth Tennis head pro Michael Halisky manages a serving lesson for young tennis players inside the bubble. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT) is a tennis program unlike any other, anywhere, according to executive director Scott Smith. VYT will celebrate its ten-year anniversary this summer and due to its success, plans are in the works for expansion.

“We offer Vineyard youth tennis instruction, court time, and even equipment and clothing totally free,” Mr. Smith said. “I’ve been around a long time in tennis, and it’s the first place I’ve seen of this type.”

One indicator of the success of the program is the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High school tennis team. The first crop of tennis players trained by VYT has now reached the high school level.

“We are very proud of all those kids who have come through our program and are doing so well at the high school,” Mr. Smith said. “They had their best teams ever last year and it is predicted they will be even better this year.” The boys won 19 matches against 3 losses last year, losing only to Cape Cod Academy three times. They won their conference title the last two years and made it to the finals of the MIAA south regional tournament for the first time last year. The girls were 15-3, were the conference champions and made it to the regional semi-finals for the first time.

Mr. Smith said when he and head pro Michael Halisky joined VYT six years ago they began to get a little more serious with the kids. “We hope that this group that we have groomed since they were 8 or 9 years old will over the next two or three years get some good college scholarships,” he said.

Sixteen of the program’s players now have US Tennis Association (USTA) Rankings in New England. The rankings are a result of USTA-sanctioned tournament results.

“Reid Yennie, Kent Leonard, and Samantha Potter have done particularly well in the USTA rankings in New England and have contributed to the high school’s success,” Mr. Smith said. “We have over 200 kids participating in our program. I don’t know exactly how many have been through the program, but I am sure it is in the thousands. Our program has been so successful that we need more courts.”

VYT hopes to replace the inflatable bubble that covers two of its courts during the winter with a permanent structure containing four indoor courts. The plan includes two more Har-tru (clay) courts next to their upper two courts. “In the wintertime two indoor courts are not enough for the number of kids we have, and we have plenty of land for expansion,” Mr. Smith said.

VYT expects the expansion to cost 3.5 million dollars. The plans are drawn but they don’t expect to begin raising money until sometime this summer. “We are going to have to do some fundraising and the permitting process may take some time,” Mr. Smith said.

The ten-year anniversary celebration for this summer is set for July 21, according to Mr. Smith. “We will have a kids tennis carnival in the afternoon and we hope to have some pro-celebrity tennis in the morning.”

VYT history

The game of tennis once had the aura of a country club sport, which it was for the most part until the last 50 years or so. Pan to dandies and dilettantes prancing around in whites, swinging racquets between cocktails during their long summer breaks — but not any more.

VYT has made tennis available to every Island child from first grade through high school, at every level, year round. West Tisbury resident Gerald DeBlois developed the VYT idea and funded it in its entirety through a trust without any need for public money or private donations, according to Mr. Smith.

The summer program is also open to summer kids if there is room after the year round kids have been scheduled. Year-round residents have first choice. The cost for summer kids has been $20 per hour.

Mr. DeBlois established the Vineyard Youth Tennis Foundation as a non-profit organization with a board of directors made up mostly of year-round Islanders. In 1997 VYT began offering free tennis lessons to young Islanders at the West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs schools. Winter programs were held some years on the indoor courts at the Vineyard Tennis Center at the airport.

By 2002 VYT had built a permanent 12-acre home off the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road on 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.

Chuck Sullivan of the Oak Bluffs architectural firm of Sullivan and O’Connor designed the clubhouse. Twanette Tharp designed the interior. It contains boys and girls locker rooms and bathrooms, a reception area, a media room, offices and a viewing deck looking out over the two main courts.

“We now have a first-class facility with first-class instruction,” Mr. Smith said.

Even though the basic expenses of VYT are covered by its endowment, Mr. Smith has organized an annual winter round-robin tournament fundraiser. The proceeds go into scholarship and activities funds. About $15,000 was raised at this winter’s tournament, which is open to Island tennis players of all ages. There is food and a silent auction. Parents of VYT players help with the event, according to Mr. Smith.

“We have sent about 30 kids to the Adidas tennis camp which usually costs about $800 a week plus expenses, which we pay for,” Mr. Smith said. “We have also brought in guest pros for exhibitions with money from that fund.”

A major factor in the success of VYT is due to the abilities Scott Smith brought with him, according to board member Nina Bramhall who met him while he was the tennis pro at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Mr. Smith has close to 30 years of tennis teaching experience. In the early 1980s, he worked at the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he helped train such stars as Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. He then directed some of the top tennis clubs in Florida and spent ten years at the Cayman Islands Tennis Club where he served as the Tennis Director and Club Manager. Mr. Smith was the tennis director for the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club in 2005 and 2006 prior to joining VYT.

Mr. Scott brought VYT head teaching pro Michael Halisky with him from Florida. Mr. Halisky is currently the top 35 and over player in New England and one of the top ten in the open division nation-wide.

For information on Vineyard Youth Tennis, visit their website