Sections

8.1.18

From the Editor

Game, Set, and Match to Gerry De Blois.

Okay, I admit it. I’m goofy proud of my wife Nina Bramhall, her co-coach Liz Roberts, and their team of high school tennis players who at the beginning of the summer won their fourth consecutive state championship. (Nina herself, meanwhile, was named coach of the year by the Boston Globe...again!) It’s a testament to the dedication of the young women that they won in a tough final match despite having moved up to a higher division. Nina would be the first person to tell you, however, that the rise of the Vineyard to high school tennis powerhouse – there have been six champion teams in seven years, counting the boys’ wins in 2012 and 2013 – is a direct result of the creation of Vineyard Youth Tennis by Gerry De Blois.

As Edgartown attorney Ron Rappaport wrote in the Vineyard Gazette not long after the win, De Blois conceived the program some twenty years ago after noting that year-round youth didn’t have many opportunities to learn the potentially lifelong sport. There was no campus at first, just an instructor and a group of young players. Using entirely his own money, De Blois bought an eleven-acre triangular parcel near the roundabout in Oak Bluffs and constructed four clay courts and a clubhouse on it. He also purchased a bubble to cover two of the courts so that the facility could be used year-round. He hired top-notch pros, including long-time director Scott Smith and head pro Michael Halisky.

“Another hallmark of Gerry’s program: Vineyard Youth Tennis is free – free instruction, free tennis balls, free uniforms, the only thing required is dedication and effort,” Rappaport wrote. “Island children have met those requirements from the beginning.”

For more than two decades De Blois has been the sole funder of Vineyard Youth Tennis. By Rappaport’s estimation, “this is the largest individual philanthropic gift in the history of Martha’s Vineyard.” Also notable, to me at least: De Blois never sought publicity for his extraordinary generosity. In fact, for many years he sought to remain anonymous, occasionally slipping in to watch a practice or a match as if he were just another proud parent or grandparent.

 De Blois, however, “is not in a position to continue to support the program in the future,” wrote Rappaport near the end of his piece in the Gazette. “And we are working on another model so that the program can continue well into the future. We will need help from public officials and hopefully from private donations.

“This is a moment to take pride in winning another state championship, and to enjoy the great satisfaction of watching our children learn the game of tennis and of following our players’ academic achievement in high school and college. But it is also the time to pause and simply say: thank you, Gerry.”

Indeed, thank you, Gerry. And while we’re at it, thank you, Ron, for helping to figure out a way to keep a Vineyard winning streak alive. Not just for the high school teams, but for all of the more than 300 young people, from first grade through twelfth, who participate in the program every year.

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