Vineyard Youth Tennis and the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard have agreed in principle to a merger in which the Y would assume operations of the tennis program, which has offered free tennis instructions to Island youth for 20 years.
Chairman Chris Scott told the Times yesterday that the merger process will begin discussions immediately with Oak Bluffs town officials and with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to facilitate the merger.
Mr. Scott noted that the center is operating as usual and he said there will be no interruption in the 2018 summer program under executive director Scott Smith, which will offer free tennis lessons to about 300 youth players.
The proposed merger would replace a relationship with Island resident and donor Gerald DeBlois, who has been the sole funder of the youth tennis program. He contributed $12 million over the last 20 years, including underwriting construction of the permanent four-court facility on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs, a quarter mile from the Y, Mr. Scott said.
From a financial standpoint, the youth program has benefitted from Mr. DeBlois’ 20 years of underwriting, Mr. Scott said. “Gerry has made an extraordinarily generous contribution to Island kids. He asked us this year to look for other ways to sustain the program, which led us to approach the Y.”
Mr. Scott said his program has annual operating costs of about $600,000 including administrative costs. He said the merger could produce savings, for example, using Y administrative resources already in place.
Y executive director Jill Robie-Axtell confirmed yesterday that the merger talks began several months ago when Mr. Scott approached the Y with the idea. The Y’s chief financial officer Brian Mackey said that financial analysis was just getting underway. “We were focussing on compatibility initially and now we can look at other aspects,” he said. Inclusion of tennis programs at YMCAs nationwide is growing and both Mr. Scott and the Y officials pointed to a Y tennis facility in Hanover as an example.
Asked whether the instructional program would continue to be free, Ms. Robie-Axtell said that decision is premature given that financial analysis was just beginning. “We are sensitive to the legacy that is in place, and, like all Y programs, we are committed to sustainability and access for all residents,” she said. “We understand sports operations and sustainability and assistance and affordability. We put all our resources back into the community in the form of scholarships and other giving,” Mr. Mackey said.
Part of the legacy to which Ms. Robie-Axtell referred is the impact the instructional program has had as a feeder program on the success of the girls and boys Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School tennis program. This spring MVRHS girls reeled off their third consecutive state championship and had a string of 57 unbeaten matches over the past several seasons.
“In addition to success at the high school level (five state championships in the past six years), a number of former VYT players are on the varsity rosters of their colleges and are employed as summer coaches at numerous Island tennis facilities,” Mr. Scott said.
Vineyard Youth Tennis began with one instructor and 20-30 kids using public courts in 1997. By 2002, the program had grown to the point that Mr. DeBlois underwrote the cost of a permanent facility on Barnes Road which is in use today.
Next steps for the proposed merger are discussions with Oak Bluffs town officials and the MArtha’s Vineyard Commission. Mr. Scott noted that Oak Bluffs selectmen “briefly” discussed the proposed merger at its meeting on Tuesday night “and they have asked us to return and fill them in on additional details,” he said.