Leadership runs deep
This phrase “All things are possible with a willing mind” is well-known in the Skeete household, and over the years, this mantra became more and more indicative of the path Leticia Skeete and older brother Joseph would forge in both soccer and life.
The phrase was symbolic in itself, representative of the certainty that the children of Brian and Myrtle Skeete would one day move on to goals beyond baby-steps and youth sports.
Leticia will be only 20 years old when she graduates this spring semester with a bachelor’s in Health Sciences. And she will just as soon wrap up a decorated career as a star on the USF soccer team.
Her leadership, penchant for taking care of others and constant encouragement of teammates and peers, began earlier than she could possibly remember.
Perhaps it was her inherent leadership qualities that afforded her the ability to speak her mind as a 17-year-old freshman roughly four years ago.
Myrtle describes her 3-year-old daughter taking her role as mother to her Cabbage Patch doll so seriously that rarely a night passed without the faux-babies receiving their “feeding” and being tucked in by their surrogate mother.
But it was her daughter’s attention to details at such a young age that affirmed Myrtle’s notion that this kid was different.
“She wasn’t in pre-kindergarten yet, (and) she used to come with me to the massage therapist,” Myrtle said. “And she would sit there with her doll, and she’s watching what the therapist is doing. Leticia learned that massage to a T.”
When Leticia first came to USF, the accolades came almost immediately despite the fact that she was asked to move from her long-held position of center defender to an attacking role as a wide forward.
The transition process, like most things Leticia takes on in life, came along quickly and relatively smoothly, as she earned a spot on the AAC All-Rookie Team in her freshman season.
And, like most of her accomplishments, her family was hardly surprised by what seemed like instant success in Corbett Soccer Stadium.
After all, she had stumbled into soccer by mimicking her brother.
“We’ve always been competitive with each other, and she was always competitive with me too, and that’s something I liked,” Joseph said. “We’d play fight, we’d race to the dinner table. Anything and everything is a competition (with Leticia).”
This emulation of her big brother meant dashing her early dreams of being a ballerina in favor of the rougher life of a center defender in Canada’s soccer circuit, where she would come to meet a feisty attacker named Jordyn Listro.
Unbeknownst to both, even as the recruiting process was winding down in which both independently decided to make the move to USF, they would not only become teammates and great friends, they would be essentially swapping positions, as well.
Her evolution as a goal-scorer would soon follow.
Despite playing in 17 games as a freshman, the stat sheet would show only five shots and zero goals on the season.
Yet, in only her second year with the Bulls, her numbers saw a marked spike, as she took 44 shots on goal, netting eight — including four game winners — while adding two assists.
Her numbers in the 2015 season mirrored the success she had as a sophomore.
Her physical size, ability to box out defenders while possessing the ball and speed in the open field make her impossible to miss, even to a novice spectator.
Her coach, USF’s Denise Schilte-Brown, went so far as to describe her as an “absolute physical beast,” without the slightest hint of hyperbole.
Though her family had long ago noticed the little things that set Leticia apart from her peers, her USF teammates would soon come to understand that she is, quite simply, a natural leader.
“She’s such an honest person, and I think that’s something that a team values,” Listro said. “She’s never going to sugar-coat anything, she’s going to tell you how it is, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need to hear.”
Schilte-Brown agreed, describing Leticia as “honest to the core.”
“She is willing to share that honesty, and because of that, her teammates really respect her,” Schilte-Brown added. “They know that if they go to her that they’re going to get answers, and she does it because she cares about them, and (I) know that she’s earning their respect. Not always their friendship, but respect.”
As she is now able to reflect on the path that has led her to an undisputed leadership role both on her soccer team and to countless young girls, she can now understand how the sport and her role as mentor go hand-in-hand.
“My parents always believed that sports were a very important part of growing up,” Leticia said. “They thought it was going to teach me discipline, leadership, and just to help me be assertive and make decisions, … so that’s the main reasons why they put me in soccer.”
She acknowledged that she was never forced to play, that she was allowed to quit at any time. But she excelled regardless, using the advantages afforded to
Division-I athletes in order to serve as a role model in the time when she is not at practice, in the weight room, studying, or helping the 2016 Bulls squad to its current 12-2-2 record.
Schilte-Brown’s Future 50 program was established in order to strengthen the bond between her athletes and the community, specifically young girls who are likely to see college-level athletes as role models. Taking this relationship a step further, Future 50 works to establish mentorships between the athletes and the young girls.
“Leticia is one of the leaders (of Future 50), and the girls love her,” Schilte-Brown said. “She uses real-life stories to connect with the kids and she’s forthright and strong, and she holds them to have a higher standard of themselves, and I think these little girls look up to her. They want to be her.”
Four-year Division-I athlete does not even begin to sum up who Leticia is. Since her sophomore year, she has served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for USF, working with the NCAA to help enact reform and changes that would benefit the lives of athletes throughout her four years at USF.
Brian and Myrtle walked arm-in-arm with their daughter to accept her bouquet of flowers and framed jersey for senior day.
Though she would not score in the 2-2 tie, she got off two shots. And, as usual, her physical play and near-constant movement on the pitch would help to establish the tone of the match.
Leticia has a few games and one semester left before she turns the page on the USF chapter of her life. Her proudest moment: scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime against UCF in 2015 to give the Bulls their first victory in the I-4 rivalry since 1998.
College, in the southern-most state of a new country, at 17. Student-athlete representative in collaboration with the NCAA less than two years later. USF graduate at 20. Next up: to be determined. But whatever she accomplishes, it will be completed before schedule.