Megan Bell grew up hearing stories from her father about Arthur Ashe the tennis player and Arthur Ashe the humanitarian.
That inspiration helped Bell become a successful student-athlete at Arkansas Tech University and an active participant in community service.
Now, Bell is the lone recipient of the 2022 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award for NCAA Division II women’s tennis. She will be recognized during a ceremony at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., in August.
“I would never compare myself to anything that Arthur Ashe accomplished, but he stands as a role model of what an athlete can be,” said Bell. “He lived with grace during a time when grace was not extended to AIDS patients. It is inspirational to see everything he did with his tennis platform, and it makes me extremely happy to be associated with his name. I will continue to strive to be better when I look at that award. No matter what is going on, I want to always remember to do good for others.”
A native of La Paz, Mexico, Bell said she was drawn to Arkansas Tech by the tennis program and the caring environment. That culture was exemplified for Bell by Abby Davis, who served as ATU head tennis coach and has since become ATU director of athletics.
“I had the sense that no matter how far away from home I was, Coach Abby was going to be my family and she would always take care of me,” said Bell. “That was reflected within the whole university and everyone who worked there. That was the main reason I chose to go to Arkansas Tech.”
Bell arrived at Arkansas Tech in fall 2016. She redshirted during the spring 2017 season and became a full-fledged member of the active tennis roster during the 2017-18 academic year. She proved especially adept in doubles and compiled a career record of 47-20 when paired with one of her teammates. Bell won an additional 25 matches in singles.
Humility and time management are two skills that Bell said she improved during her time as a Golden Sun.
“I learned to prioritize what I needed to do first and then organized myself from there,” said Bell. “Having so many tasks every day as a student-athlete can be tough, but if you learn how to manage everything you can definitely do it all and still have fun. Also, caring about those around you…you’re not the only one in those situations, and you realize you’re not alone.”
Due to her redshirt year and the extra year of NCAA eligibility granted to spring sports student-athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell was a member of the Golden Suns tennis program throughout her six years as an undergraduate and graduate student at ATU.
“Since I was young, my dad has prepared me to be mentally tough and to continue to push through adversity,” said Bell. “I just kept thinking about the goal I’ve had since I was a little girl, which was to play college tennis. I was like, ‘do it for that little girl, because she is proud of you right now.’ Even though it might have been hard after four, after five, after six years, I kept pushing because I knew the second I was done I would miss it, I would want to go back and it wouldn’t be there anymore. That is what kept me motivated and pushing hard to try my best.”
That point of view helped Bell excel in the classroom as well. She earned four ITA Scholar-Athlete recognitions and was a three-time Great American Conference All-Academic selection. Bell is a two-time Arkansas Tech graduate. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 2019 and a Master of Arts degree in multi-media journalism in 2022.
Over the span of her career as a student-athlete, Bell helped Arkansas Tech earn the annual NCAA Team Works Service Challenge Award as NCAA Division II national champion in community service on three occasions. ATU has finished top five nationally in that competition each of the last six years.
The service culture that exists within the ATU Department of Athletics prepared Bell to serve as a graduate assistant for community engagement in the ATU Department of Campus Life while she pursued her master’s degree.
Bell’s favorite community service project at Arkansas Tech is the Green and Gold Give Back event that takes place each November.
“The fact that so many students come together to help the community, the scale of it and seeing people show up at 7 a.m. when it’s extremely cold to go in someone’s yard and rake leaves…it gives me goosebumps,” said Bell. “It’s nice to see that people will do that for others.”
As she looks forward to her career, Bell has developed a personal definition of leadership and how she will apply it to her life.
“It means being someone that others strive to be like or look up to,” said Bell. “Leaders pave the path to the right way of doing things…go to class, do community service with a happy face and show up for practice early. It’s also about doing all the extra little things. I wanted to show my teammates it is possible and be the best version of myself I can be for others.”