Private donations keep tennis free for island youngsters.
Martha’s Vineyard may be known for its celebrity residents and high-profile summer guests, but its free tennis program for the island’s resident youngsters is also turning heads.
Funded entirely by private donations, the Vineyard Youth Tennis Foundation began providing free lessons in the West Tisbury and Oak Bluff schools in 1997. The Vineyard Youth Tennis Center (vineyardyouthtennis.org) opened on 12 acres of land in Oak Bluffs in July 2002, offering free lessons, court time, racquets, and apparel to children 4 to 18 years old.
The goal, according to Executive Director Scott Smith, is to teach values including sportsmanship, healthy competition, and mutual respect while introducing youngsters to a sport for a lifetime.
“I’ve been involved in tennis for 30 years, and I’ve never come across another program like this,” says Smith, a USPTA-certified pro who was an instructor at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in the 1980s, when Andre Agassi and Jim Courier were students there.
At the Vineyard Youth Tennis Center, more than 200 children play each week under a two-court bubble during the winter, with the figure topping 300 per week on four outdoor clay courts in the summer. Each child receives at least two hours of group instruction plus a weekly half-hour private lesson per six- to eight-week session. The facility also recently implemented the QuickStart Tennis format for 10-and-under players so they can enjoy longer rallies.
Computer records are kept on each child’s progress, with videotape analysis offered for advanced players. Through scholarship fundraisers-the only time adults are allowed to play on the Vineyard Youth Tennis Center courts-youth tournament players are offered some financial support to travel off island for events. Scholarships are also awarded to juniors with demonstrated dedication, sportsmanship, and talent to attend a one-week tennis camp at the Bollettieri academy or Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla.
Because of the growing popularity of tennis on the island, Smith says, plans include construction of two more courts along with a parking lot expansion. With its Vineyard-style clubhouse featuring locker rooms, reception area, media room, offices, and viewing deck overlooking two courts, the Vineyard Youth Tennis Center received a USTA Facility of the Year award in 2004.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think that Martha’s Vineyard and tennis would go together in the winter, but we’re booming,” says Smith, who serves on the USTA New England Eastern Massachusetts Board of Directors. “We’re proving that tennis on Martha’s Vineyard isn’t just for the rich and famous.”
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About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.