Celebrating 20 Years at Vineyard Tennis Center and Workout

Twenty years ago Connie McHugh had a vision. She wanted to unite the seven kingdoms of Vineyard tennis.

“There were strong pockets of players around the Island, but the people on Chappy had never played with the Chilmark Community Center, who had never played with West Chop who never played with the Edgartown Yacht Club, because they played seasonally and they never got together in the winter,” she said.

Plenty of room for fitness — for tennis or life in general. — Mark Lovewell

The answer was to build the Island’s first indoor tennis court so that in the off-season the Island could come together, racquets in hand, under one roof.

Ms. McHugh teamed up with Ken Martin in 1996 during a time when buzz about an indoor tennis facility was strong. She began looking for locations, considering the triangle in Edgartown, but deciding on a spot near the airport. On Sept. 30, 1996 the Vineyard Tennis Center was born, located in the middle of the Island, with ample parking and near enough to the airport so that people with delayed flights would be able to walk down for a workout, which they do, she said.

“On the very first day we had a peewee class going on next to some 80-year-old guys who were playing the first doubles game,” she said with a laugh. “It was very cool.”

Two years later, they added two fitness spaces and changed their name to the Vineyard Tennis and Fitness Center to include the growing exercise aspect of the center. “The joke was we built the first fitness center thinking our tennis players would like to warm up or stay strong, and they’ll use this fitness club,” Ms. McHugh said. “No. Entirely new faces came. Tennis players stayed tennis players, which is great, but all these people who were fitness people came on deck.”

The future of tennis is now. — Mark Lovewell

The second expansion in 2003 focused on adding more options for fitness, bringing the total number of workout rooms to 10.

Ms. McHugh’s interest in tennis began in the 1980s. She honed her tennis game by watching Chris Evert dominate the court on television. Though her high school didn’t have sports for girls until her sophomore year, the first program they offered was tennis.

“I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a go,” she said. “And I loved it.”

She started hanging around a public park, helping tennis players warm up before their full group arrived.

“I missed dinners those summers for about two years,” she said. “But I became a tennis player.”

She went on to play tennis at Northeastern University and then took a coaching job at Salem State University. After meeting her future husband, Leo McHugh, at the Hot Tin Roof when she was vacationing on the Vineyard, she moved to the Island full time. In addition to the center, she is a USPTA pro and coached the high school girls tennis team for several years. Her partner in the center, Ken Martin, retired in July 2008.

Tennis courts for all seasons. — Mark Lovewell

Mr. Martin was also a tennis enthusiast. Prior to opening the center, he’d played on indoor courts for 25 years and was a high school tennis coach. But despite their shared interest in tennis, it was quickly clear that the center had potential beyond the courts. But their reputation as primarily a tennis center has remained.

On a recent morning, Ms. McHugh helped Peter Norris with the size of his racket.

“I think this has a smaller grip,” Mr. Norris said, showing her an old racket he’d found.

“It could still be smaller,” Ms. McHugh said, suggesting unwrapping the grip. “For me it’s still a tad too big, and you and I are the same. It’s better, it’s definitely better, but I think you could still go one notch down.”

She found him another properly-sized racket that he could use during his early afternoon doubles game, a group put together by Ms. McHugh that included two retirees and a substitute teacher. Ms. McHugh is the matchmaker of the tennis court, setting up games for players of similar ability and compatibility. Sometimes this resonates off the court as well.

“We’ve even had a couple of marriages come out of this thing,” she said.

Connie in action. — Mark Lovewell

It is a social place for all ages, where peewees still play next to 84-year-olds, and evening tennis games often end with a round of beers or a shared dinner. The instructors try hard to keep both the fitness and tennis programs fresh, and are constantly brainstorming to come up with the new ideas.

“Every month we meet as a team and say, what next?” Ms. McHugh said, adding that she looks forward to change. From solar panels on the roof to a new barre fusion class, or the inclusion of hula hooping, it’s the constant movement that keeps her inspired.

“I remember when [the center] was seven years old, I said to my partner, we have to do something pretty quick here if I’m going to hang around.”

Evidently it worked, because after 20 years, Ms. McHugh doing a lot more than just hanging around.

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