Sept. 28, 1953 – May 20, 2017
Al Litto’s career as one of the Buffalo area’s leading tennis teachers and coaches began when he played hooky from Mass one Sunday when he was 15.
Instead of taking the bus from his home in Kenmore to St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, he and his brother, Bill, hopped a bus in the other direction and spent the morning looking around the construction site for the Buffalo Tennis Center.
When they got caught, Mr. Litto explained that they were looking for jobs and they were hired as maintenance boys. When they found out they were working for free time on the tennis courts instead of getting paid, his brother quit.
Mr. Litto, however, fell in love with the game. He became a standout doubles player at Cardinal O’Hara High School, graduating in 1971, and played doubles for a year at Buffalo State College.
Then he took a tennis course in Columbia, Md., from the legendary Dennis Van der Meer, who coached women’s champion Billie Jean King.
“Van der Meer taught me how to teach both adults and children,” he told Buffalo News racket sports writer Charlie Garfinkel earlier this year. “He told me that teaching tennis was like teaching children. You start them on a plan and keep them progressing. You also have to show energy and enthusiasm when you are teaching tennis, how much you care for each and every student, no matter what their level of play is.”
Mr. Litto continued his association with the Buffalo Tennis Center until 1976, then spent a year at the Jack Rogers Tennis Center in Sarasota, Fla. He returned in 1978 to the Eastern Hills Racquet Club in 1978, then became head professional tennis instructor at the Buffalo Tennis Center for four years, beginning in 1981.
In addition to coaching, he was a wizard at matching up players. He always was ready to help a recreational player who called him to find a partner. He also put together more than 150 mixed doubles, men’s and women’s doubles and junior doubles teams for United States Tennis Association competition.
He helped raise funds to provide 180 new tennis rackets for city high school players and to install a dozen new tennis nets for the McMillan Courts in Delaware Park and the public courts on South Drive.
Every spring, he would personally sweep the McMillan Courts and hang the nets and windscreens so that city high school teams could play there.
He ran the Muny Tennis and Junior Tennis championships from 1989 to 2002, organizing everything from the schedules to the refreshments at the parties when the tournaments ended. He also ran the Buffalo Police Athletic League Inner City Tennis program from 1998 to 2001.
“It is what Al does behind the scenes that impresses me the most,” Tom LaPenna, director of high performance at the Village Glen Tennis Club, told Garfinkel earlier this year. “He goes above and beyond to find rackets for kids who need them. He gets kids to the courts that otherwise would never venture there. He has also helped kids and adults alike to fall in love with the sport.”
Away from the courts, Mr. Litto specialized in real estate. In 1985, he became a sales representative with Donald J. Reeves and then was a licensed real estate broker with DSG Realty from 1987 to 1990.
He and his wife owned and renovated numerous properties around the city.
He died Saturday in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 63.
Survivors include his wife, Jane “Anne” Grace, a funeral director; and a sister, Elizabeth “Sue” Grimm.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday in All Saints Catholic Church, 205 Esser Ave.