Through adversity, SU student-athlete rises to graduate ahead of schedule
Focused, determined, and resilient are just a few words to describe Southern University Baton Rouge graduating senior Darnesha Moore. The Chicago, Illinois native will be receiving her bachelor of science degree in therapeutic recreation a semester ahead of schedule.
Following a schedule and staying on track is something Moore began when she was 15 years old when she had to abruptly enroll in a new school in Mesquite, Texas, and was preparing to graduate from high school at the age of 16.
"I had a notebook and I literally planned out each day until graduation by the week. And I wrote down each thing I had to do," said Moore. "I followed it each week and put motivational quotes on there for myself to tell myself 'it's okay, you are going to make it.'"
As a junior in high school, outside of her regular classes Moore was enrolled in three online courses on top of playing tennis, however that was not the only challenge Moore was facing. Moore was uprooted in the middle of the night and taken away from the only place she knew, Chicago. At the time she was living with her grandmother but her mother decided to move to Dallas, Texas with a friend and was taking Moore and her little sister along.
Moore was devastated and she was unaware of what was happening. After a few weeks in Texas with the friend, Moore's mother and the girls found themselves homeless and having to move to a shelter. This in turn required Moore and her sister to travel from Dallas to Mesquite, Texas to get to school which included taking a train, a bus, then another train, a shuttle bus, and then had to walk to the elementary school and to the high school. Driving to Mesquite, a suburb outside of Dallas, takes about 20-minutes in a car, but for them it was a two-hour journey.
Moore went into depression mode she said and kept to herself.
"Growing up we lived in low-income housing, but that was pretty low us being homeless," said Moore. "I wanted to be taken out of that situation and whatever I needed to do I would do. I started planning."
This is when the notebook planners came into place, and her focus shifted to graduating and playing tennis.
Soon, a little help came Moore's way. The assistant principal and registrar at Mesquite High School, Vallerie Mayad, began to help out with rides and introduced Moore to the tennis coach. Prior to leaving Chicago, tennis was a big part of the teen's life. Along with Mayad and a few other faculty members including math teacher Ahmed Rachid, tennis coach Linda Howing, and registrar's office secretary Carla Lee, Moore had a light at the end of a tunnel. And, tennis was again back in her life.
In a 2013 documentary produced by the Mesquite Independent School District featuring Moore, she described these teachers in her life as heroes.
Rewind to three years ago, Moore was introduced to Southern University through a math tutor at the high school, who was a Southern alum and former student-athlete.
"He asked me who was recruiting me, and I told him Prairie View and a few other schools. He was like 'what, I'm about to call the coach at Southern," said Moore. Before she knew it Jeff Conyers, SU's head tennis coach, was on the phone. Moore spoke with Conyers and promised to send her tennis highlights tapes to him.
When Conyers called Moore back he offered her a full-ride scholarship to play tennis at Southern. Moore had heard of Southern before from former SU tennis player Gabrielle Moore, no relation, who graduated in 2014. Gabrielle Moore is also from Chicago and learned to play tennis from Darnesha's aunt, Precious Morgan, just like Darnesha.
The two played against each other all their lives in Chicago. Once Darnesha went on her visit to Southern and reunited with Gabrielle and fell in love with the Southern vibe, she knew Southern was the place she wanted to attend college.
Darnesha arrived at Southern in the fall of 2013 for her freshmen year weeks after her seventeenth birthday, and was ready to get back to her passion, playing tennis. This was a new start for the young teen and she said it was a big adjustment, however she did keep one thing going that has always kept her focused, her notebooks.
"My first semester, academically I definitely had a hard time adjusting, when it came time for [tennis] season that spring I said I had to buckle down. Two assistants tutored me every other day and was on me about doing well. They would help me get extra time in on the court too," said Darnesha.
All was going well for Darnesha at school and in her personal life until earlier 2016. The effect of family events back in Chicago including some deaths took a toll on her. Also, prior to the 2016 season Darnesha found out that someone close to her back in Chicago went missing and was found dead on a local playground. Not too long after, the SU Athletic Department experienced a tragedy, losing two of its young members (Lashuntae Benton and Annette January) during a shooting in April in Baton Rouge. Darnesha was friends with Benton and took classes with her and saw her every day. She was there the night of the shooting and it left her in a bad space for a few weeks after seeing her friend lying on the ground.
That season the tennis team did not win the SWAC Championship, something Darnesha wanted. But this did not get her down, she re-focused and got back on track with her training schedule and academics. She is ready for the 2017 season, and she has a mission, to win another ring.
Post-graduation, Darnesha will continue her education at Southern to work on her masters in therapeutic recreation. She has one more year of eligibility to play as well.
After graduating high school at 16, entering college in a new city all alone at 17, and pushing her way through college to graduate at 20 with a pretty successful college tennis career, Darensha credits being raised on tough love and motivating herself through all the adversities. She has not only stayed focused and motivated herself, but has become an inspiration and a positive light for others including her fellow teammates, friends, and people on social media.
She does not show any signs of weakness after having endured negative energy from family members for years she says. Darnesha continues to prove them wrong. If you tell her she cannot do something she will do just the opposite. She prides herself off a strong work ethic and knows the work she needs to put in to be successful.
"I focus on me. Taking time to myself helps me stay focused as well," said Darnesha.
In her tennis career at Southern she received Women's Player of the Year for Southern, gone undefeated in singles and doubles two of her three years at SU, made first-team All-SWAC for two years, was MVP her freshmen year, and won two championships a part of the five-peat and six-peat team.
"I think I received everything you can get as a female tennis player," said Darnesha with a smile.
Darnesha says her time at Southern has been great.
"They (SU athletic department staff and student-athletes) support me to the fullest. I have major support from compliance, the advisors, and even with the football team," says Darnesha. She is a part of the Therapeutic Recreation Club, Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and part of the SU Football video crew.
Darnesha's mother and sister will be attending graduation on Friday, Dec. 16 in the F.G. Clark Activity Center to cheer on Darnesha as she walks across the stage.