ORGANIZER OF THE MONTH
USTA Eastern | February 26, 2018
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. We celebrate and honor Black History Month by featuring this remarkable Mount Vernon tennis professional whose calm demeanor, family-touch and dedication to the sport is a winning combination that sets him apart.
Tennis Organizer of the Month: February 2018
Eastern’s Family Man
The third of 13 children, Kela Simunyola grew up in the city of Kitwe in the copper-mining region of Zambia, learning to play by hitting a ball against a wall at a club his father belonged to. After the tragic death of their mother, Simunyola and several of his siblings continued to train and would enter local pro tennis tournaments to earn extra money to support the family. He became an exceptional player and ultimately earned a scholarship to Concordia College in Bronxville. ADVERTISEMENT Simunyola played briefly as a touring pro in Europe and coached his daughter Kylene, who reached No. 400 in the world, before embarking on his career as a teaching pro.
Simunyola found his calling as a mentor and teacher of the sport, playing integral roles in the development of many talented American junior stand-outs including Katrine Steffenson, who traveled around the world to compete in international tournaments, including the four junior grand slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) and is currently playing Varsity Women’s Tennis for Princeton University, and Louisa Chirico, a tennis player from Harrison, New York, who won three singles and two doubles titles on the ITF tour.
“He's got a special way with kids,” said Kylene Murray, his daughter and tennis pro at Kela Tennis in Mount Vernon, New York, a bubbled six-court facility in Mount Vernon, New York. “A lot of people like that he is very calm on the court and I think his students feel like it's easier for them to learn and try new things because of it.”
His demeanor is just one of several key factors in the successful Simunyola equation. Those who’ve had the privilege to work with him have been surprised at how fast they see real and immediate results from his steady instruction. “My dad presents things in a way that is fun, while teaching many important skills that he knows will make a difference in their games,” said Murray.
Simunyola and the staff at Kela Tennis have a familial bond that many gravitate toward. Simunyola’s daughter and his wife, Ligaya, work tirelessly along his side to meet the needs of their customers and cultivate a nurturing tennis community. Staff and customers seamlessly fold into one family and take on a unified purpose. “I've been teaching for a while, and the kids that I taught for a long time now bring their own children to us,” said Simunyola. “I have been fortunate to serve many extended families -- great-grandmas, grandmas, parents, kids, and grandkids – and together we create a stronger family in which we all work together. Building and nurturing this tennis family has been my life’s joy.”
Which is why Simunyola gladly hosted the first USTA Eastern African American Coaches Symposium at Kela Tennis on Friday, February 2. This event included tennis round robin play and a networking session with Simunyola and other prominent African-American tennis industry leaders, including former Cote D'Ivoire West Africa Davis Cup and ATP Tour coach Marvin Dent, National Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for the USTA, Yasmine Osborn, and Senior Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for USTA Eastern, Esu Ma’at. Together they shared their ideas on successful player development and leadership within the African-American tennis community.
Click here for more information on other Diversity and Inclusion initiatives within the Eastern section.