Wrestler learns and teaches valuable life lessons
Lataye Smith is an eighth-grader at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton with a desire to become an engineer. Ironically, the 14-year-old Carol Stream resident has already had a successful career as a teacher - he just doesn't realize it.
Born without a left hand and wrist, Lataye was Kenya Smith's first child. While she was never the kind to dwell on it, there were obvious concerns.
"It was something that was new to me," Kenya said. "I had never seen a person missing an arm before. I went through a couple of things, like I thought he wasn't going to be able to live his life to the fullest. Through the years, he proved me wrong. It was more of him changing my outlook on him after I'd seen him developing and growing, and all the things that he did overcome and was able to do."
The mother learned some valuable lessons from her son. If he wanted to do something, he would figure it out and show his mother.
"Like tying his shoes," she said. "He just wanted to do it. I just watched him show me how he was going to do it. There was really no way that I could teach him how because I had both of my hands."
Watching her son gave Kenya the wisdom and insight she would need to counsel him when kids at school started teasing him about his hand.
"It took him to teach me to be able to teach him though," she said. "He really amazed me just growing up and seeing the things that he was able to do."
That determination became a way of life for Lataye, and also put to rest any concerns Kenya might have had about her son living his life to the fullest.
"Basically, I would just let him try and he never gave up," she said. "Anything that he tried, he never gave up. He tried it in his own way."
Even wrestling - Lataye wrestles for Monroe Middle School and is in his third season. After developing his skills for two seasons on the "B" squad, his record recently was 10-2 with the "A" squad. In fact, Lataye, who would qualify for the 166-pound weight class, has been wrestling at the 177-pound level all season.
While it is not unusual for him to be about eight or nine pounds lighter than his opponents, he is usually able to use his missing hand to his advantage, according to his wrestling coach Kevin Formanski.
"Without that one arm, it kind of throws people off," Formanski said. "Anytime you wrestle somebody with that kind of disability, you kind of have to change your game plan. This forces kids to have to wrestle Lataye's match, not their own match."
Formanski is in his sixth season of coaching wrestling at Monroe, but coaching Lataye has been a learning experience for him as well.
"A lot of times when we coach moves, we'll coach them as a team, and then I'll specifically go to Lataye," Formanski said. "And not necessarily knowing what I'm going to teach him, but to see what he's capable of doing. It's kind of like an exploratory coaching on my part just to see what Lataye can do."
While Lataye admits he was a bit wild as a wrestler when he started two years ago, he believes the wrestling program has taught him self-control and discipline.
"It has been really great," he said. "I've learned that it doesn't matter if I have one arm or anything. I can just go out there and do moves like that to show my self-control."
That self-control, along with a few miscalculations on his opponents' part, has led to a very successful third season.
"They think that I'm so much easier," Lataye said of his opponents. "They think that they can go out there and beat me just like that, and it ends up that I'm the winner."
That winning attitude also translates into academic success for Lataye, an honor roll student. With two younger brothers, he is keenly aware of the example he is setting for them as well.
"I want them to follow in my footsteps and be a wrestler just like me," he said. "I want to teach them to be a good student, and to be the best that they can be."
Just another valuable lesson from a seasoned teacher.