At the beginning of this year, Ioonna Felix was named the Regional Council Director for USTA Eastern’s Metro Region, a role she will serve in through the end of 2022. As a native of New York City, Felix was excited to take the baton from previous Director Pablo Sierra, and continuing to grow the game of tennis in NYC.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved with tennis and the USTA. I come from a health care and medical background, and so I wanted to see how the other side of it worked, in a sense,” said Felix. “In talking to some people I know in the field, they suggested I go through the channels of the USTA and see how I can be a part of it. When this role came up, I knew it was a great opportunity to jump on, and the transition from Pablo to myself has been great. He was a great Director, and has been and continues to be very helpful, especially in lieu of the pandemic last year and everything we had to deal with, and what we are still dealing with.”
Felix is the site manager at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Westside Sports Institute Rehabilitation and Performance Center, where she treats sports injuries, and specializes in the rehabilitation, return to play, performance and clinical research of racquet sports athletes of all levels, particularly tennis players. In addition to her the treatment, both in terms of injury prevention and rehabilitation, Felix also has extensive experience in sports programming, which makes her an ideal fit to head up the Metro Region.
“I’ve seen the whole spectrum in terms of sports programming, and this has helped me in this new role as we try to put on more community- based events and programs,” said Felix. “We had an event in June, which was a thank you to the essential workers during the pandemic, and we tied that in to growing tennis in the community. My experience in creating programs that helped with injury prevention, whether it’s for kids or adults, is something that has also helped me since taking over.”
Felix is a first-generation Dominican-American who grew up in Washington Heights. Along with her sister, the two were huge fans of tennis and were eager to play, but it proved to be more difficult than they thought due to the social and economic obstacles. This has helped provide motivation and a point of reference for Felix to try to make the game more inclusive and diverse, and help spread the game to all parts of the city.
“I love this sport, but I recognize that it’s one that still needs to be more diverse,” she explained. “My first impression of the game was that it was really boring when I watched it on TV. All I saw was a ball go back and forth over a net. Lucky for me, my sister tried it in high school. She was able to introduce it to me and it was so much fun. We asked our parents if we could take lessons. Through some difficult navigating, we were able to learn how to play. Looking back now, I realize what a big request that was for my parents. The obstacles we experienced and the initial lack of access to the game is partly what motivates me to make the path easier for others to play.”
Felix and the Council work closely with the many Community Tennis Association’s (CTA) throughout the City’s five boroughs, and are aiming to bring tennis events and programming to many local parks. This past summer, the Region held an event at Lincoln Terrace Park, where it helped introduce tennis to so many kids who may not otherwise ever been able to play.
“It was great because we had a lot of people in that community who grew up similar to how I grew up. They either didn’t know the game, or had never played, and they stopped by to play and loved it,” said Felix. “This is something they want to do annually now. We try to take our members out to different fairs and community events where we can showcase the sport, and demonstrate how easy it can be to have access to it. Whether it’s hitting against a wall, or playing at the local park, it’s our job to continue breaking down those barriers.”
Now almost a full-year into her role, Felix is excited for what is to come in the Metro Region moving forward. A major initiative that was put on hold because of the pandemic was the schools programs, where the USTA can provide equipment and instruction for schools to introduce tennis into their curriculums. With schools closed this past school year, those programs were halted, but as we approach a new school year, that will be one of the primary agenda items for Felix and the rest of the Council.
“The next task for the fall is to see how we can get back into the schools. As we get relatively better with the pandemic, and kids are going back to school, we want to emphasize tennis in schools again,” she said. “Last year really limited what we could do in the schools, which is why we put more focus on the community-based events, especially this summer, but now one of the things we will turn our attention to is the schools. We want to reassess how we do that, and rebuild our schools programs to not only grow it, but provide it to many schools across the city, and do so safely considering the pandemic.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org