To excel at tennis it usually takes more than desire, dedication and athleticism. It takes money. Equipment is expensive, as is court time and high-caliber instruction.

For Vineyard kids, though, money is not an issue. Ten years ago Vineyard Youth Tennis was created to furnish Island youth with free tennis lessons and a state-of-the-art facility of their own to play as many hours as they wanted; again completely for free.

The program is permanently endowed by a Vineyard benefactor who prefers to remain anonymous.

Mara Blanchard. — Jeanna Shepard

The results of this gift do not sit quietly in the background, though. This year the boys’ high school tennis team went undefeated (23-0), winning the Division 3 state tournament. Every player on the team spent part of their tennis journey at the Vineyard Youth Tennis Center.

The girls’ high school tennis team reached the semifinals of the south section Division 3 state tournament and posted a record of 18-3. Every player on the girls’ team also played tennis at VYT.

“This is definitely one of the most unique programs in the country,” said youth tennis executive director Scott Smith. “And we have facilities that rival any country club.”

Located on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs (near the blinker), VYT consists of four Har-tru courts, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, a media room and a reception area stacked with a supply of racquets, balls and even clothing which Island kids receive at no cost. In the winter, a giant bubble goes up over two of the courts, making it a year-round training center.

And then there are the coaches.

tennis center
Connor Downing (center) and his parents, Chris and Karen. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Smith is originally from Tennessee, but built his teaching reputation in Florida, where he helped train Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, and in the Cayman Islands, where he directed the largest junior tennis program in the Caribbean. He has over 25 years of coaching experience.

“My forte is working with kids,” he said.

Michael Halisky, ranked number one in New England in the 35-and-over age division, is the head tennis professional at Vineyard Youth Tennis. He came to the Vineyard from Florida with Mr. Smith.

Nina Bramhall, a lifelong seasonal resident of the Vineyard and year-round resident since 1998, started the Vineyard’s first USTA women’s 4.0 team, which she captained for nine years.

The facility typically adds three more college-aged coaches during the busy summer season.

Wendy Wen. — Jeanna Shepard

As a scorching sun loomed overhead last Thursday morning, many of the 12-and-under players sat red-faced on the scattered wooden benches, catching their breath after round one of an in-house tournament. Max Potter (age nine) has been receiving tennis instruction at VYT since he was four. Recently, the minimum age was raised to first graders, as the current number of courts and staff didn’t allow for such a large number of youngsters.

Max said the coaches are his favorite part of the program. “They’re really nice. And they help a lot.”

Vineyard Youth Tennis was “too good to not take advantage of,” added Max’s mother, Susan Silverstein-Potter.

Max has already worked his way up to becoming a player on the Tournament Team, a group of athletes that VYT sends to the mainland regularly for United States Tennis Association tournaments.

Throughout the year, lessons are divided into eight weeks sessions during the winter, fall and spring, and four week sessions during the summer.

The Vineyard Youth Tennis headquarters, unassuming in structure, awesome in results. — Jeanna Shepard

“Out of all the years we’ve been coming here, Max has only missed two sessions,” said Mrs. Silverstein-Potter. “Other than that, it’s been year-round, every year.”

“And it’s really about more than just how to play tennis,” she added. “There are standards to be met. It’s a civilized environment, more so than the other sports I’ve experienced. The kids are disciplined, and there is a constant focus on sportsmanship. They’re competitive, of course, but they work as a team here.”

Max is still young, but he’s looking to be a part of yet another wave of great Vineyard tennis players. The recent state champions at the high school once stood where he does now, including Kent Leonard, who played first singles this year for the high school team.

“The tennis teams at the high school can expect a solid upcoming group,” Kent said. “VYT builds a foundation. When the [high school] season comes around, everyone is already in shape and we don’t have to spend time getting people up to speed.”

“They do a lot to prepare high schoolers,” added Samantha Potter, Max’s cousin, who played first singles this year for the high school girls’ team. Samantha is just a freshman.

“It’s just a walk away from the high school, and it’s another place where we can play tennis,” Samantha said. “And it’s such a great place, with the amazing coaching staff that continually helps us improve.”

“I’m putting it in their heads now,” Mr. Smith said, referring the girls’ tennis team. “They will bring home a state championship, too.”