A Surefire Hit
The pros of Tennis Addiction help players of all skill levels “up their game”
by Pina Rahill

Traci Fisher’s 8-year-old son spends about 15 hours a week during his coveted summer vacation practicing and playing tennis. “He wants to go there even when he doesn’t have a class,” she says. “He calls it his home away from home.”

Fisher’s son’s “home away from home” is Tennis Addiction Sports Club, a tennis club in Exton, that serves more than 400 kids ages 5 to 18 as part of its Junior Academy Program.

Anthony DeCecco, president and founding member of Tennis Addiction since 1997, is passionate about tennis. He took up the sport in high school, went on to play at the college level and won a state championship at Millersville University in Millersville. Today, he is president of the USPTA/Middle States, an elite pro (the highest rating) and head coach at both Downingtown High School East (girls’ team) and Malvern Preparatory High School (boys’ team).

DeCecco credits his choice to play tennis for his enduring passion for the game. “I wasn’t pushed,” he says. “I’m a good ambassador for the sport because I made a choice to play.” Perhaps for this reason, DeCecco is equally passionate about ensuring that the kids who come to Tennis Addiction are making that choice as well, that they are there because they want to be.

DeCecco and his staff of 12 tennis pros operate by a code that includes fun, effort, respect, teamwork and relationships. “We put fun right at the top,” says DeCecco. “We want kids to learn tennis and have fun. It’s a deal breaker if it’s not both.”

Jeff Rightnour, who is 24 years old and a member of the pro staff, was taught by DeCecco before going on to play at the college level, where he was a team MVP and a two-time All-Academic Athlete. “I remember walking up to my first lesson when I was 11,” says Rightnour. “Here’s Anthony, with this long hair. He looked like a surfer dude. I came on the court with nothing. He gave me a racket and we had a blast.”

No one shares DeCecco’s philosophy more than his partner, David DiLucia, former tennis professional and U.S. Tennis Association National Coach. “They will stay with it if they enjoy it,” says DiLucia. “We try to create an environment with clear goals and immediate feedback, where kids get involved in the moment and think, I lost track of time.”

Fun, however, has not stood in the way of talent development. The club currently coaches the No. 1 ranked boy and the No. 1 ranked girl in the Philadelphia Area Tennis District (PATD) 10 and under division, which boasts more than 11,000 members. This year, Tennis Addiction also won both the 10 and Under World Team Tennis Classic (becoming the only two-time champion) and the 12 and Under WTT Classic. The WTT Classic attracts the top club teams in the PATD. This year, the tournament hosted eight teams in the 10 and Under and 10 teams in the 12 and Under, with the top two finishers playing in the final.

Currently, more than half of the students at Tennis Addiction are kids ages 10 and younger. “It’s the biggest thing in tennis right now,” DeCecco says of the movement that has introduced new court sizes along with new racket and ball technology, which is doing for tennis what tee-ball did for baseball.

This group, as do all groups in the Junior Academy Program, follows a curriculum based on a program designed by DiLucia. It focuses on fundamentals and is characterized by DiLucia as being technical, tactical and physical. But DiLucia says it starts with a conversation. “We ask, ‘What is your purpose? What motivates you?’” Equally important is creating an environment where kids aren’t afraid to fail. “We explain to them that that is where learning takes place; then we can create a plan to work on this and learn from it,” he says. Having lived the life and experiencing what many of these children aspire to gives DiLucia a unique perspective.

After attaining a high level of play at Malvern Prep—where he was coached, in fact, by Anthony DeCecco—DiLucia went on to play for Notre Dame University. He represented the United States in the 1991 Pan American games in Cuba, earning a silver medal in singles and a gold medal in mixed doubles. In 1992, he was the No. 1 ranked player in the nation and led his team to the NCAA finals. Professionally, DiLucia played on the Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour for nine years, attaining a doubles ranking of No. 91 in the world and defeating David Wheaton (a former top 10) in a 1998 quarterfinals singles finish in Tokyo.

DiLucia wanted to come back to the area to be near family. He had been away touring and then living in Florida for close to 20 years. He ran into DeCecco at a conference. “We sat down and ended up talking for hours,” explains DiLucia. “It goes much deeper [than tennis]; it’s about a philosophy. We both want to develop happy, healthy, functioning kids. I didn’t look anywhere else.”

Fisher feels fortunate to have DiLucia coaching her son. “Dave not only taught him the rules of the game and techniques, but he’s helped him enhance his passion for the game,” she says. “To find someone in this area with his professional résumé is very rare. You usually have to go to Florida.” Fisher then adds, “He takes it to the next level.”

Rightnour plans to stay involved with Tennis Addiction after earning his law degree, hoping to combine these two disciplines. While pursuing his degree, he’ll also continue to teach nights and weekends. “It’s such a good environment,” he says. “You can’t find a tennis club that is this positive. Everyone gets along. Everyone here is just happy.”

Fisher feels the same way. “Anthony facilitates an environment that is upbeat and happy. It starts at the top,” she says. “People have a passion for tennis here. They have a passion for life.”

In addition to the youth program, Tennis Addiction approximately serves about 750 adult members, half of whom take lessons. The Ladies 4.0 team (named after their USTA level of play, which goes from 2.5 to 5.0) won the PATD Championships earlier this summer and will compete at Sectional Championships in Princeton, N.J., in mid-August.

“I could do this for another hundred years,” says DeCecco. “I love my life.”

He wants children everywhere, especially those that play tennis, to love their lives, too. He is well on his way, creating an environment where failing is OK, relationships matter, and the staff is passionate about ensuring that everyone is having fun—an environment that an 8-year-old calls his “home away from home.”

Tennis Addiction Sports Club
202 Philips Road
Exton, PA 19341

Photograph by Nina Lea Photography