Return to Headlines

Point guard takes skills as leader into scholarship quest

Kyonna Kelly couldn’t help but feel sad when, a few weeks back, time ran out on her four years as a starter for the Kinston High School women’s basketball team. Finding herself in the running for three college scholarships has helped her spirits rebound.

A 17-year-old African American female in a blue hoodie leans against a white wall.The 17-year-old senior is a finalist for the Greenhouse Scholarship, open to students in six states, and a semi-finalist for the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship, a national award worth $40,000. She is also the LCPS nominee for the LeeAnn Tuttle-Thomas Memorial CTE Scholarship, a state award, and was a quarter-finalist for the Elks National Foundation’s Most Valuable Student Scholarship.

In addition to academic achievement, the scholarships put a premium on leadership, school activities and community involvement. For Kyonna, those strengths connect to basketball.

As the point guard for the Lady Vikings her entire high school career, she was a leader on the court who evolved into a leader in the locker room and at practice.

“At first, I was not a vocal leader. I led by example,” Kyonna said. “Being a freshman, I felt like I shouldn’t say anything; but after the upperclassmen left, everybody else was looking for someone to speak up. I had to step into that role. It’s been a challenging role, but I try to go into it head first.”

That approach has earned her several honors – from team captain since 2021 to a Most Valuable Player award, to first-team all-conference honors to a spot on the list of the top 80 high school women’s players in the state. It’s also led her to share her talents and enthusiasm for the game, both as a counselor with the city recreation department’s summer camp and as the organizer of her own free basketball camps for girls.

At the camps, Kyonna teaches girls how to handle a basketball but also instructs them in how to handle themselves. “I try to mentor, not just about playing the game of basketball but also carrying yourself in school and outside of school,” she said.

Her own approach to school is head first. Her schedule outside the gym is a blend of Advanced Placement courses and college-level classes through Lenoir Community College. A principal’s list student, Kyonna is in the top five of her class academically, serves as an AmeriCorps student tutor and was named a graduation marshal her junior year.

She is vice president of Kinston High’s Anchor Club, a service organization, and secretary of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society.

She was a member of this year’s Chick-fil-A Leader Academy class, attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Summit, is organizing financial training for her classmates through State Employees Credit Union and works an after-school job.

“It’s been stressful, doing so much at one time,” Kyonna conceded. “Basketball season was tough, trying to watch film and doing essays and doing all the other work, but I got past it. I have learned how to balance it more.”

The next stress test, by Kyonna’s own admission, comes later this month when she sits for an in-person interview with a panel from the Greenhouse. Along with the complex applications and the essays, she’s done video interviews for the scholarships, but in-person is different, she says.

“That’s going to be very tough,” she said. “I’m not one to talk about myself a lot.”

The Greenhouse, valued at $20,000 over four years, drew more than 900 applications and was awarded to 33 students from five states in 2023. Perhaps more than most college scholarships, it emphasizes leadership potential and community involvement in its selection process.

Kinston High principal Kellan Bryant believes Kyonna measures up. “She’s always asking what she can do to help and serve others,” Bryant said. “Her impact is great, though she doesn’t always recognize how remarkable her abilities are. Her greatest service as a leader in the school is how she models success for her peers. You will not find a more authentic person than Kyonna Kelly.”

While she’s waiting for word about the Reagan Foundation scholarship or the CTE scholarship or other opportunities that may arise in the next couple of months, Kyonna is weighing a decision about where her next step will take her. She plans to take a degree in criminal justice and becoming “a police officer on my way up to be an FBI agent.”

But where?

“That’s a tough question. I don’t know because I also want to play basketball,” Kyonna said. “I want to play basketball, but I’m more serious about the academic part of it. I am a realistic person. Me playing basketball in college would be cool, but there has to be something after basketball.”