— Written by Club Fit Member and Guest Blogger Joy Cain
For JV’s Director of Tennis Hal Touissant, tennis is all about love.
Either that, or it’s a rerun of Groundhog Day. Why? Because at 8 in the morning, you may find Hal giving a lesson on the tennis court. At 3 in the afternoon, you may find Hal giving a lesson on the tennis court. At 8 at night—you guessed it— there’s Hal, giving a lesson on the tennis court. And here’s the crazy part: Lately, Hal says, he’s been cutting back.
“My days can easily run 12 hours, whether it’s on the court or off the court. But I’ve slowed down a little bit. Before I used to work 6 or 7 days. Now I try to work 5 or 5 ½.”
Yes, it must be love. And there’s a lot to love in the tennis department these days, especially with the arrival and installation of a sleek new tennis bubble. After 22 years of service, the old bubble was laid to rest, making way for a modern $350,000 covering. Featuring a skylight and a glossy-painted interior that will make everything seem brighter, the new bubble’s vastly improved heating and condensation system should make tennis more enjoyable for everyone. After all, if this bubble is good enough for John McEnroe’s Lake Isle tennis facility—well, it’s good enough for Club Fit! “It’s going to be a whole new experience, ”notes Hal.
JV’s slender, soft-spoken tennis director certainly has had a wide range of experiences. Born in Petion-Ville, Haiti, Hal attended Catholic school and was around 12 years old when he began picking up tennis balls behind his older brother, Yves. Eventually, Hal—the youngest of four brothers—became the “beneficiary” of Yves tennis wisdom. “He gave me two lessons, and after that, I was on my own,” Hal says with a smile. “So I hit against the wall.” Soon, Hal’s friends also began playing tennis, but the game took on greater importance during the military coups that followed the departure of Jean Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier. “School was sometimes closed because of political issues, but I was busy with sports, ” he says.
Along the way, Toussaint became friends with Ronald Agenor, who represented Haiti on the professional tennis tour and in 1989 was the 22nd-ranked player in the world. Whenever Agenor returned to Haiti, he and Hal would hit together. “He didn’t like to play matches, but he’d just hit just for the fun,” Hal says. “He’s a good guy. I learned a lot from him—whether it’s in terms of playing or being a coach.” Around this time, Hal often did double duty: He’d train in the morning and compete in tournaments in the afternoon. Hal’s game improved to the point where he spent five years on the men’s satellite circuit. In 1992 Hal was ranked No. 4 in Haiti; in May 1996 he was ranked No.8 in the USTA’s men’s 25 and over. Things were going well—until tragedy struck. Hal was about to play in the finals of a men’s tournament in Florida when he learned that his brother Jacques was killed during political unrest in Haiti.
“That was a big turning point for me in my life,” he says. “We were very close. I stopped playing because I could not focus. Teaching was a way for me to escape, to help people, and to deal with what was going on. And here I am.”
After teaching in Florida for a few years, Toussaint was hired by Briarcliff in early 2003 to run their Advanced Tennis Performance (ATP) program for juniors. He became JV’s Director of Tennis later that year. When he came to Jefferson Valley the staff consisted of himself and two other people; today’s staff has four pros (Toussaint, Michael Chitu, Laura Gabella, and Paul Fielek) and an office manager (Alice Daly). The department has seen other changes as well. “When I first came, you could do a walk on nice and easy. We were not charging for courts. Then it came to the point where we had to charge because people were fighting for courts. So the courts have gotten a lot busier. Our club is small, but there is a lot happening.” On the adult level, approximately 100 people are signed up.
But the biggest happenings are with the younger players. Toussaint credits former tennis office manager Maureen Heaslip with helping to get the junior program off the ground; at its peak, three years ago, it had 150 members. The funny thing about kids, however, is that they grow up, graduate, and move on—so the program now has between 80-100 members. But new classes, like the 10 and under group session, have been created to pump fresh blood into the tennis pipeline. Since kids like to play with other kids, Hal believes that teaching tennis in a group setting is a win-win situation. When he isn’t giving lessons or clinics on court, Hal’s in the office doing the behind-the-scenes work (returning phone calls, answering e-mails and working on programming and scheduling) that keeps the tennis programs moving.
“We offer tennis at all levels–whether people want to play college or just for fun or whether they want to play competitively,” Hal says. “So that’s really our goal…to be the best program around. We’re small, but the work and the structure are great.”
Speaking of great, lately a few great things have been happening in Hal’s life. In November 2011 he became an American citizen. And recently–although they have yet to set a date—Hal asked his girlfriend, Sophie Moins, to marry him. Naturally, Sophie is a tennis player. And fortunately, she is also a member of Club Fit….so she’ll know just where to find her beloved. Because at 8 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon or 8 at night, Hal might very well be out there on the tennis court.
Proving once again, in every way possible, that tennis is all about love.
Read more about Hal and the Club Fit Tennis Pros.