Feb. 1, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF senior center Racine Davis wonders where she'd be right now if not for the guidance and steady prodding of her former high school basketball coach, Della Reese Smith.
Davis knows one thing for sure - she most certainly wouldn't be getting the chance to play college basketball if not for the "tough love" shown to her by Smith back at Plantation High School in Tamarac, Fla.
"She saw potential in me at an early age, and she motivated me to work harder and get better so I could be here today. I probably wouldn't even be playing basketball and I'd be at an art school or something like that if not for her," said Davis, who has had the good fortune of winning two conference championship rings during her time at UCF.
Wednesday is National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and players such as Davis across the country are taking time to commemorate the coaches, leaders and parents who most influenced their careers in sports.
The celebration of girls and women in sports began in 1987 as a day to remember Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman for her athletic achievements and her work to promote equality for women's sports. Hyman, who died of Marfan's Syndrome in 1986 while competing in a volleyball tournament in Japan, was a major advocate for involving young girls in sports, citing the positive influence of sports participation on a girl's life.
According to the NGWS website, the theme for this year's celebration is "Title IX at 40: In it for the Long Run." Despite Title IX's remarkable impact over the past four decades, high school girls still receive fewer participation opportunities than do boys.
Davis, an art enthusiast, doubts she would have ever stuck with sports had her coach not taken a major interest in her when she was a freshman in high school. She ultimately blossomed into an all-county player and one worthy of a scholarship to UCF.
"She took me under her wing because I ended up being a varsity player. She mentored me and helped me grow as a player," Davis said. "She was the hardest on me of anybody, and when I made a mistake she would be on me to correct it. But it helped me in basketball and life and I appreciate that now."
Fellow UCF players Ashia Kelly and Meghan Keough credit their fathers as their biggest influence on their involvement in sports. Little did they know it when they first started playing, but Kelly and Keough were learning valuable life lessons.
Kelly, a senior forward who grew up in Longview, Texas, used to play one-on-one basketball against her father, Louis Kelly. Her father may have been tough on her, but she realizes now that her dad was simply preparing her for the challenges she would face later in college and in life. Her fondest memory in basketball naturally involves her father.
"My fondest memory was when I was playing basketball in the first grade and my dad was my coach. I remember me hitting the game-winning shot and he ran and picked me up and carried me down the court. It was an awesome experience," Kelly said. "The person who had the biggest influence on my sports career would have to be my dad. I love him and he's amazing. My parents had two boys and a girl, and I got pushed the hardest of any of them.
"My dad pushed me to my limits and we had lots of fights, but I'm grateful of the toughness, hard work and dedication that he instilled in me. He taught me that drive to keep going through adversity. Seeing my dad in the stands now and happy - it's always a motivation for me. I'm fulfilling his dream of playing college athletics."
Keough, whose older sister, Kayli, also plays for the Knights, often calls her father, Mike Keough, before or after games for advice. Mike played collegiately at Tennessee Tech but saw his time as a quarterback cut short by a knee injury. He finished his career as a wide receiver.
Keough said her father's influence helped push her into sports, and his experience helps her deal with the highs and lows of playing college basketball.
"When things happen in a game, he will reflect it back to a story that happened to him when he was playing. He tells me about when he'd have slumps or get injured," Keough said. "He's big on life lessons and us getting something out of it. He doesn't want us just playing sports to win; we're playing it to learn life lessons, build character and grow as a person."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.