It’s too easy to judge a person based on appearance, especially when a person has tattoos.
The permanent body art conjures up a host of character assumptions, from personal lifestyle to how the tattoos were paid for.
Hidden Valley High School senior basketball guard and forward, Kelsi Bailey is no stranger to tattoo judgment. Referred to by strangers as “the girl with the tattoos,” Kelsi has a half-sleeve tattoo on her right arm, two tattoos on her left arm, and two other smaller pieces on her body.
Her tattoos are positively received, for the most part. Negative comments are ignored.
“They don’t know my story. They don’t know me as a person,” she said.
Some of her tattoos have easy stories. She has a military-inspired piece with the inscription “Death Before Dishonor.” Above it are Kelsi’s initials, a piece that she designed herself. She also has a crown and basketball on her back, and stars on her stomach area.
Her half-sleeve holds a tougher story.
The rosary, praying hands and roses mark a permanent memorial for an older sister, Kayla Bailey who passed away at the age of 5 from complications with seizures.
“I was only 2 when she passed away, so all I have is pictures of her. She’s a part of me now through my tattoos. She is on my arm. She’s there even if I can’t see her. I never had her, but now I do,” she said.
Kelsi has also lost a half-brother, Deeonte’ Collins, who was only a few days old. However, losing her sister was different.
“Me and her had the same mom and dad, so it’s full blood. All my other siblings are half-brothers and sisters. She was the only one that had the same parents,” Kelsi said.
With her dad, Derek Bailey’s approval signed on paper, Kelsi got her first tattoo when she was 15 from a freelance tattoo artist.
“I have tattoos, and she wanted one. So I let her get one. And then another one,” Derek said.
The memorial tattoo started out with Kayla’s name. Kelsi decided to expand the piece with the help of Tattoo Lab in Vinton.
Using money earned from her job at a grocery store, she has already plugged several hundreds of dollars into multiple sittings for the half-sleeve tattoo. She still has several more sittings to go before the sleeve is complete.
Kelsi came to Hidden Valley when she was 16. She previously attended William Fleming High School where she also played basketball. She said that people at Hidden Valley respond to the tattoos differently than at Fleming.
“Here, everybody thinks it’s cool because they don’t see it all the time. At Fleming, you saw it all the time so it wasn’t anything new,” she said.
Her dad is a Fleming graduate who hoped Kelsi would be the same. But coaching issues and the disappointment of being benched during most of the games made her dad and step-mother, Andrea examine Kelsi’s placement in a different school.
“She came in one night and said she was done with basketball. We weren’t going to let her do it. We said this ain’t going down,” Andrea said.
“Basketball was the love of my life and for me to sit there and want to give it up that bad was just unreal. I’m glad I didn’t do it,” Kelsi said.
Kelsi was relocated to a relative’s home near Hidden Valley. Shortly after her relocation, Derek and Andrea sold their home and moved out to an apartment near Hidden Valley.
The relocation proved to be a good move. Kelsi’s new coach, Randy Bush saw her potential and gives her time out on the court.
Kelsi said that even if Coach Bush is being tough, he is like a second father, and his coaching has helped build her up.
Her biggest tattoo is a story from her past. Her smaller tattoos share the story of her future.
Kelsi has already enlisted in the Army National Guard and has been accepted into Bridgewater College. She will continue to play basketball while at Bridgewater.
Her uncle was in the Air Force, Kelsi’s original choice of military enlistment. However, she wanted to go to college and be in the military at the same time. With the Air Force, she could attend college before or after her time in the military. She chose the National Guard so that she could do both simultaneously.
She hopes to have a career in forensics and has planned to study chemical radiology in the Army and criminal justice in college.
Story and photos by Danielle Dunaway