Tennis player nets 2018 Positive Athlete award

Southwest DeKalb High School tennis player LaTia Bell is the 2018 Positive Athlete for the Atlanta Region.

LaTia, who graduated May 22 with a 3.8 GPA, won the award June 15 from a field of thousands, despite battling sickle cell disease since she was a toddler.

Her coach Lance Davenport said that coaches, teachers, parents and fans around Georgia made more than 5,400 nominations for the award.  

Founded by Hines Ward, a former University of Georgia and Pittsburgh Steelers football star, and Super Bowl XL MVP, the award celebrates high school student-athletes and coaches who give back, are involved in their schools and communities, overcome difficult circumstances, and embody the seven definitions of a Positive Athlete: optimistic attitude, encouraging of teammates, servant leader, heart for others, admits imperfections, always gives 100 percent, and puts team first.

She is going to the University of Georgia to study biological science/pre-med on an academic scholarship. Her goal is to become a hematologist.

Davenport said the honor is well-deserved.

“She’s done the work herself and her character speaks for itself,” he said.

LaTia was a member of Southwest DeKalb's tennis team for two years. In 2018 she and doubles partner Kendall Davis finished with a 6-5 record at the #1 Doubles position, ranking eighth best in the county. She also posted 1-3 mark at the Singles 3 position.

Sickle cell is a debilitating illness that causes crippling pain, and LaTia ended up missing long periods – often weeks at a time – of school and tennis. During those periods, she called to support her teammates, often telling Davenport to communicate her well-wishes to the team and to tell members she would be back with them soon.

In spite of the time missed, LaTia maintained her grades and her on-court prowess.

She was touched by Davenport’s nomination.

“It feels amazing to know that my coach sees me this way,” she said.

Her mother, Keisha Fairley, is proud of her accomplishments.

Fairley, a single mother raising a child with a disease she knew little about, said she faced unemployment each time she called out of work to take or visit LaTia in the hospital. She said LaTia's positive attitude helped her a lot.

“She didn’t give up and that made me strong,” said Fairley, who can’t believe how far her daughter has come.

LaTia said her mother was an inspiration.

“She kept an optimistic attitude and that really rubbed off,” LaTia said.

Throughout high school LaTia was told numerous times that she would never play organized sports. She proved the naysayers wrong.  

LaTia says she loves tennis and it helped her to stay optimistic in the midst of her illness.

“It’s hard knowing I have all these limits, but I don’t let it stop me,” she said.

In addition to recognizing positive high school athletes in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Western Pennsylvania, the Positive Athletes organization, founded in 2011, has awarded more than $100,000 in college scholarships.

For more information, visit www.positiveathlete.org.