Monday Profile: Haines City's LaDreda Akins
Mon. July 23, 2012 at 2:56 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
LaDreda Akins, 41, head coach of the Haines City High School girls basketball and volleyball teams, is a member of the school's 1989 graduating class. (Photo by MICHAEL WILSON | THE LEDGER )
By SOLANGE REYNER
KISSIMMEE | On a clear Friday evening in mid-July, the Haines City girls' basketball team is hooping it up at AAU Nationals, a four-day tournament held at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
The team, nicknamed Florida Finest for summer ball, is down at halftime to the Saratoga Sparks. Shots aren't falling for Florida Finest. The team is having a tough time finding a flow.
LaDreda Akins, the 41-year-old head coach for Haines City, calls her team in for a pow-wow. During the break, she tells them how they need to adjust. Her hands are constantly moving and she's often showing players, through her own body movements, what they need to fix. With five minutes left before the game starts again, Saratoga breaks from its halftime conversation to take shots. Akins keeps talking.
There's about a minute left on the clock and Akins is still talking. And her players, standing in a disheveled semicircle around her, are still zoned in to what she's saying.
Florida Finest loses, 48-40, but the dynamics are different this summer. Two seniors who helped the team get to the Class 7A state finals last season graduated and there's no clear leader on this squad yet. Akins is putting in the hours to make sure the hazy picture clears up soon, even if she's doing it on her own time and dime.
Akins is the head girls basketball coach at Haines City, has been for 12 years. She gets a $2,055 coaching supplement every season to hold that position, zero in the summer when she's holding two to three practices per week and taking her team to numerous tournaments and camps in and out of the state.
Being a high school coach is, at times, a thankless job. There are players' attitudes and overbearing parents to deal with, plenty of late nights for planning and not much money to be made.
But the end result is what Akins appreciates, especially if her coaching helps get her players into college.
"She does whatever it takes to get these girls there," said her husband, John Akins. "It's fabulous. And even though she puts in a lot of hours, I don't want to take that away from her. She loves being around these kids and helping them."
Three of her seniors from last year — Briona Brown, Ashley O'Neal and LaDerricka Spillman — were offered athletic scholarships to play at the collegiate level.
Her efforts don't stop with the girls' basketball team.
LaDreda Akins, who took over as coach of the girls' volleyball team at Haines City in April, is in the process of assisting a recent grad, Sarah Ingalls, in obtaining an athletic scholarship.
Akins never coached Ingalls but she started making calls to college contacts to see whether a program might have an open spot for her.
"I'm really hoping she gets the opportunity to play," LaDreda Akins said. "She's a really talented player."
Akins extends a helping hand to whomever she can because that same kindness was imparted to her when she was an athlete at Haines City in the late 1980s.
David Meade was her basketball coach and Robin Wagman, who died of cancer in early 2011, was her track and field and volleyball coach.
Both coaches pushed Akins to get better. The result: Akins was a four-time state qualifier in track and field and Meade's first female athlete to get an athletic scholarship.
Akins played at Florida Southern College, where she started as a junior and a senior.
Wagman helped her develop some proper etiquette, too.
"She taught me so many little things, like leaving tips for servers at restaurants. I never thought to do that as a teenager," Akins said.
"Those two sacrificed so much for our teams, so I wanted to pay it forward. I came to Haines City to give back because I was given to."
She's helped boost Haines City's girls' basketball program, that's for sure.
Her teams have compiled a record of 252-89 in her 12 years with 11 playoff appearances. During her tenure, Haines City has been to the state tournament twice. This past season, the team beat the No. 1 team in the state in its classification to make an appearance in the state finals.
Akins was named the FABC coach of the year for her performance.
"She's keeping the tradition alive," Meade said, referring to Akins' senior year in high school, when the team made a deep run in the playoffs. "When she first took over the program, it took her two to three years, but slowly and surely, she's turned it around."
And she's been animated in doing so. During games, Akins rarely takes a seat. She converses often with officials, questioning why certain calls were made.
She was a bit of a firecracker when she played, too.
Akins was a solid defensive player who had a nice jump shot. She often played with the boys and, when she did, talked smack like the boys.
In remembering those times, she pinpoints a pickup game on an outdoor court in Haines City. It was the first time she met John Akins.
"I didn't want him on my team because I didn't think he was very good," LaDreda Akins said. "But then after the game, I offered him a Gatorade and I was like, ‘What's wrong with me? I'm never nice like that.'?"
Her directness is still on display.
"She'll tell us when we're not on point," said her daughter, Jone Akins, a rising senior on the basketball team.
"And she doesn't powder puff her comments. But we all take it and grow from it because she wants the best for all of us."
Jone Akins listens because she has to, but also because she wants to emulate what her mom has done in the sport. When she was 29, LaDreda Akins tried out for the Women's National Basketball Association. She made it to the final day of cuts for the Orlando Comets but tore her ACL, shelving her dreams of playing as a pro.
"She had the chance to do it and I want the chance to, too, and she can help get me there," Jone Akins said.
Born: Dec. 11, 1970, in Union Springs, Ala.
Family: Husband, John; daughter, Jone.
Education: Bachelor's degree in financial business management from Florida Southern College.
Employment: Algebra teacher and head girls basketball coach at Haines City High School.
Hobbies: Working out, Twitter, working on the computer.
Favorite author: Dick DaVinzio.
Favorite restaurant: Red Lobster.