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Scholar Athlete of the Week: Kelly handles school, ball

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Ferriday High School junior Shakeria Kelly has the constant support of her mother, Keishla Barber, who makes sure she is there to see every game and pushes Shakeria to excel in the classroom. Shakeria has between a 3.8 and a 3.9 grade-point average. Kelly is a point guard for the Lady Trojans.

FERRIDAY — After working at Ferriday Market for eight years, Keishla Barber changed jobs so she could arrange her schedule around her daughter, Shakeria Kelly.

Barber now has the morning shift at McDonald’s in Vidalia, and every time Kelly takes the court for the Ferriday High School girls basketball team, Barber is there to see it.

“I’m just so proud of her,” Barber said. “She’s only a junior, so I’ve got one more year after this. I’m here for every game, rain, sleet or shine.”

She also serves as a motivator for Kelly when it comes to Kelly’s studying, and the results have been positive: Kelly currently has between a 3.8 and a 3.9 grade-point average.

“My mom pushes me hard to do my work, because I want to go to college,” Kelly said. “Sometimes I can be slacking off, so she makes sure I’m doing it.”

Kelly also said she doesn’t mind the extra attention her mother gives her.

“I know it’ll pay off in the long run,” Kelly said. “I like to make good grades.”

Barber said her daughter’s desire to make good grades makes Barber’s job as a motivator easy.

“She’s pretty self-motivated,” Barber said. “She’s matured, and she wants to do her best. I always encourage her that she can do better, but at the same time, I always tell her I’m proud of her. I tell her to do her best, and if her best is better, then try to do better.”

A speech from her mother right before high school started served as a wake-up call for Kelly when it came to her grades.

“She told me that these next four years are the most important years of my life,” Kelly said. “At first, I didn’t see how important it was, but when we first started doing the work, I realized I would have to study hard for the tests, and that it wouldn’t just come to me.”

Barber said it was important for her daughter to realize just how serious things are in high school.

“Everything you do from here on out, you can’t take back,” Barber recalled telling her daughter. “Grades come first. You can be the best player in the world, but if you have horrible grades, what school is going to want you?”

Kelly said studying hard and paying attention in class are simple methods to making good grades, but they’ve proven effective for her. It also helps when she hasn’t missed a day of school.

“I try not to miss days because I might miss something important,” Kelly said. “I don’t have any absences this semester. Sometimes I have a virus, but I take medicine and force myself to come to school.”

Pre-practice tutoring sessions also help Kelly with her studies. Going to tutoring — and making good grades in general — is a big priority for girls head coach Lisa Abron, Kelly said.

“Coach Abron stresses grades a lot,” Kelly said. “Out of all the athletic programs, girls basketball always has the highest GPA. I take pride in that, and we all try to help each other out.”

After her father, Demarco Kelly, gave her a basketball as a gift when she was little, Kelly took up the sport, learning the ins and outs by playing with the boys in her neighborhood. She still plays with the boys to this day.

“It makes me tougher,” Kelly said.

As the Trojans’ primary point guard, Kelly said being in the spotlight is kind of stressful, but she said she’s adjusted to having teams key in on her.

“I learned to get better with my passes and my dribbling, because they would try to press and trap me,” Kelly said.