When Kevin Lewis played tennis as a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, his coach Tom Rabbit said to him that if he tried he would be successful.

“He put a tennis racket in my hand and said ‘here, use it.’ I had no idea what I was doing but he implemented in me that no matter how much time you have, if you try with that time you have, you’re going to be successful whether you win or lose.”

That was 1983. And now, in the spring of 2021, Mr. Lewis is Coach Lewis, leading the boys tennis team this season to a 7-0 record thus far.

Coach Lewis grew up on Warwick avenue in Oak Bluffs in a home that his great great grandmother, Elizabeth Lewis Beard, built on a plot of land that has been in his family since 1891. His family’s heritage dates back to one of the first four founding black families in Oak Bluffs. As a child, he would accompany his father, Stephen Lewis, to work in his grandmother’s restaurant, The Lewis Family Diner in Oak Bluffs.

After graduating high school, Coach Lewis moved to Boston and then settled in Silver Spring, Md. where he coached both the boys and girls tennis teams at Reservoir High School.

Last summer, he visited the Vineyard to help throw his father an 80th birthday party in Niantic Park.

“The next day after his party he said ‘Kev, that was the best birthday party I’ve ever had.’ He was so happy and I loved it.”

The following week, his father lost his battle with bladder cancer.

At the time of his death, Stephen Lewis was in the process of building a new home on the family plot of land. The new house was about 80 per cent complete and Coach Lewis decided to move back to the Island to finish it.

“He would love it that I came back,” he said.

He took a custodial job at the regional high school in December, unaware at the time that the school was searching for a new boys tennis coach. He has been impressed with his team, he said, both as players and people.

“They’re good kids, they have good heads on their shoulders and they take whatever little pieces of advice I give them and implement them in their games.”

Coach Lewis said he enjoys playing tennis vicariously through his team and their early-season success has been a wonderful bonus.

“I’m blessed to have such a good group of boys and I really feel like if they win, I win.”

And while this year’s team looks to continue a championship legacy in Vineyard tennis, Coach Lewis is continuing his own family legacy in Oak Bluffs, finishing the house his father started.

“Everything I do in that house is for him,” he said. “It has my touch because I’m the one who has to pick it out but I know my father would have liked that.”