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Area student becomes finalist for national scholarship

Zuri Greenlee stands with her head coach Ken Leak (right) and Parkland athletic director Linwood Jerald (left).

Area student becomes finalist for national scholarship
November 18
14:31 2020

Securing funds to pursue higher education is an issue many high school seniors deal with every year. As a finalist for the Semper Fidelis All-Americans Honorary Award, Parkland High School senior Zuri Greenlee may have her college finances taken care of.

The idea for the scholarship was brought to Greenlee’s attention by her head coach, Ken Leak. He has presented the opportunity to all of his previous players, but Greenlee was the first to take advantage.

Greenlee has gone through her ups and downs as a basketball player. She has suffered devastating knee injuries by tearing her ACL on two separate occasions. Entering her senior season, Greenlee and her parents have decided to sit out the season instead of jeopardizing her health with any further injuries.

To keep herself around the game, Greenlee became the team’s manager because she wanted to be a part of the game and close to her teammates. Through their time together as player and coach, the relationship between Leak and Greenlee became more like a father/daughter bond.

“With Zuri, you could see that this kid is special and not just with her just being a leader on the court, because after she injured her knee the second time, I already made her a captain and she continued in that role as captain for the team even though she wasn’t playing,” said Leak. “I have always just been a listening ear for her.”

As part of the application process for the scholarship, Greenlee had to write an essay about someone she considers a mentor. She chose Leak as the subject for her essay.

“Once she sent me the email of what she sent in, it brought me to tears because I didn’t realize how much of an influence I had been and someone she was looking up to,” Leak continued. “As a coach you try to make sure your players are doing right, but I didn’t know I was making that big of an influence on her.

“It was just so passionate of what she put on paper that it blew me away, because I just didn’t see myself that way. I just see myself as a coach and I am always on them about different things and making sure they are becoming great human beings outside of basketball.”

Greenlee said Leak has played a major role in her life and it was almost a no-brainer for her to choose him as the topic of her essay.

“Personally, he is a father figure for me and he has always given me good advice and just has been there for me, not only as a basketball player, but as a human being,” said Greenlee of why she chose Leak. “He treats me like I am his daughter and it’s definitely more about me than about me playing basketball.

“Even though I am not playing basketball this year, he still reaches out to me, still talks to me and makes sure I am okay and doing well. He definitely cares about me more beyond basketball, so I definitely wanted to make him the focus of the essay.”

To their surprise, Greenlee’s essay was selected as one of the 100 finalists out of all the applicants from around the nation. Greenlee and Leak were presented with trophies to commemorate the honor. 

“I was shocked and surprised that out of everyone in the United States who applied, I was able to be one of the 100 that were given an opportunity to be a part of this program,” said Greenlee.  

To make it to the point of being a finalist brings Greenlee feelings of joy, considering the hard times she has endured on the basketball court. She misses playing the sport, but says there are many other things in life she wants to accomplish outside of basketball.

“It was definitely a shock that it happened again for the second time,” said Greenlee about tearing her ACL the second time.  “I definitely had high hopes for me playing basketball at a higher level and going to college. I had a dream when I was younger to go to the WNBA, but things get reshaped and the way you combat situations and deal with it and move forward is what really makes you strong as a person.

“I needed to focus on academics because I wanted to pursue higher learning, so I definitely felt that it would be a good idea to shift my focus away from feeling bad about myself, because I still could bounce back and have a future in basketball. But I do need to pursue other aspects for myself, so I can have a plan B and not put all my eggs in one basket.”

Greenlee’s hope is that her story inspires others to continue fighting no matter what obstacles you face in life.

“The biggest thing is that you don’t stop,” she said. “If you have a goal and something you want to do in life, it may get off track, but make sure you always have a backup plan and make sure you don’t stay in the state of feeling bad for yourself. You need to get up off your feet and go do something about it.”

If selected as one of the scholarship winners, Greenlee says it will be an emotional moment for her and her family.  She says her family is not rich, so to have the ability to alleviate them of the financial burden of college tuition would mean the world to her.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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