Five knee surgeries prevented Lawanda Lee from fulfilling her potential as an athlete, but it hasn't stopped the former Delta High three-sport standout from achieving success in the academic realm.
Dr. Lawanda Lee Sykes learned early in life that education would carry her further than athletics.
When her promising athletic career was derailed long ago by five knee surgeries (three on one knee, two on the other), it wasn't a major setback because she had her priorities in order.
Sykes, a 1994 Delta High School graduate, has the evidence to prove that her passion for athletics has carried over into education.
On Friday, May 10, she received her doctorate degree in education from Grambling State University.
Along with her Ed.D, Sykes has earned a bachelor's of education and a master's in public administration from GSU.
Sykes, recently completed her seventh year teaching freshman year seminar at Grambling.
“It's basically about helping with the transition from high school to college,” Sykes said of the freshmen seminar course. “It deals with time management, study skills, note-taking, decision-making and career choices. I have a lot of kids from Bastrop in my classes.”
For Sykes, one of the most rewarding parts of the class is the opportunity to teach students from all over the world.
“I get to teach kids from all different counties and different backgrounds and see them throughout the semester, and then see them graduate,” said Sykes, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Lee of Collinston. “It's a pretty good feeling to have an impact on their lives.”
While Sykes has enjoyed her time teaching freshmen, she is ready for a new challenge.
“I want to continue to teach and move up to graduate level courses. I'm hoping and praying that that happens next semester,” Sykes said. “Eventually, I would like to possibly do some research and some publishing.”
Sykes was originally hired at Grambling as a university assistant registrar, before entering the classroom.
“Teaching wasn't on my bucket list,” Sykes laughed. “I was just testing the waters at first, then I got hired at Grambling. I never thought this is what I would be doing — and I'm loving it.”
Upon deciding to pursue her doctorate, Sykes never thought twice about her field.
“I was already in education, so it just made sense to go ahead and get my Ed.D in education,” Sykes said. “Plus, I love kids — all ages, actually.”
The immensely-talented Sykes, who had always taken academics seriously, discovered just how fragile an athletic career could be as a freshman at Delta High School. Starting for the varsity as a freshman, Sykes was running down the court during a basketball game against Oak Grove. Suddenly, she crashed to the floor, with no one near her. Though it did not appear serious at first glance, she had torn an ACL.
Prior to the first injury, Sykes helped Morehouse advance to the Dixie Belles Softball World Series.
As an eighth-grader, she ran with Brenda Williams, LaTasha Loche and Sharica Smith on Delta's state championship 4 x 400-meter relay team. Earlier that year, she set a meet record in the high jump in the Rayville Relays.
While continuing to play in all three sports at Delta, Sykes became all too familiar with operating tables and physical therapy. Awaiting knee surgery No. 5, she realized athletics were no longer for her.
“After I busted my knee up the last time, I decided, 'You know what, I think it's time to give up,'” Sykes recalled with a smile.
Lawanda remains involved in athletics to extent as she is married to a coach. Her husband of the past 6 ½ years, Kenneth Sykes, was recently hired as head basketball coach at Woodlawn High in Shreveport. A former Grambling basketball player, Kenneth Sykes played five years professionally overseas, before accepting an assistant coaching position with the Tigers.
Lawanda Sykes is the mother of three children — Ricky Lee (15), a sophomore at Bastrop High, K.J. Sykes (4) and Samantha (1). She also has a step-daughter, Kenya Sykes.