Kimberly Latshaw Ortiz
Kim began her life’s journey in Philadelphia, but at age 2 moved to Miami. At age 4 Kim began to develop an interest in sports watching her older brother play baseball and helping out at his practices. By 5th grade at Cutler Ridge Christian Academy with an engaging and supportive coach, she ended up playing every intramural sport the school offered. She loved competition. Sports came first – academics second, but if she wanted to play, she needed to have decent grades.
Teen years brought middle school graduation and a transition to Palmetto Senior High. She began playing softball, then soccer and volleyball as each season rolled out. It became too much, so choices had to be made. Volleyball won out. Her skills took her directly to the varsity team, and eventually on to team captain.
Kim’s attraction to athletics also led her to become an assistant to Palmetto’s athletic trainer, where she learned how to help prevent and deal with sports injuries. This experience gave her a deep appreciation for the importance of conditioning and understanding the physical needs required for each sport. Also with the teen years came braces, concerns about body image and issues with self-confidence. Issues that so many teens, especially girls, have to overcome.
Kim graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School in 1991. Without a clear career interest, starting out at Miami Dade Community College made sense. They had a women’s (not girls anymore) volleyball team, and state championship caliber credentials. Kim was reluctant to try out. “They only want tall girls”. But with parental encouragement she tried out. It was very challenging and she wasn’t selected. Fortunately, one of those who were selected decided to take another offer and the coach had to choose between 2 candidates from try-outs. Under duress, Kim put together a promotional folder on her accomplishments at Palmetto and that was the tiebreaker. She was in with a scholarship.
Kim got to be coached and trained under Cookie Stevens, whose laser focus on positivity, teamwork, attitude and overcoming obstacles energized Kim. She would eventually model her coaching on what she learned from Coach Stevens. While height-challenged at net, she developed her skills in defense as a relentless digger. Importantly, she learned never to show disappointment in her play, or that of her teammates. Her skills and work attitude, along with a recommendation from Coach Stevens, earned her a full scholarship to the University of South Alabama. There she continued to develop under coaches Jim Smoot and Deitre Collins.
Following graduation from South Alabama in December 1996 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Kim returned to Miami and secured a position with the West Dade Correctional Facility, where she learned how to effectively work with and help troubled teenage offenders. She cared about these kids and found that they responded to being given respect, which she in turn required of them.
With college volleyball days over, Kim checked out playing beach volleyball at South Beach. She saw that BEACH was different and she wasn’t ready. So she headed to Holiday Isle in the Keys and started playing pick-up games on their sand courts before heading back to Miami Beach where she quickly fit in and made scores of new friends. Her joyful smile and ability to always find the best in people naturally drew people to her.
During this time she secured her teaching certifications and was hired to teach physical education and wellness at Barbara Goleman Senior High. Shortly after starting there she accepted the position of head volleyball coach for boys and girls, where she could apply all that she had absorbed from her college coaches. While there she innovated by adding Miami Dives Into Dance - a dance and performance program that ran for 5 years. All of her physical education students participated in staged dance shows which were performed for repeated sellout shows. She insured there was a role for every student so they could all have a stake in the success of the program. If dancing was too much of a challenge, you could build scenery, sell tickets, help with costumes or otherwise be engaged. (Her long-ago graduated students remember and appreciate the opportunities Kim provided for them. She managed to find things students could do well and nurtured their growth and built their self-confidence. She received the Model Physical Education School Award from the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports.
Kim set high standards for herself and lived up to them. With her students and athletes she was tough but fair, positive, non-judgmental, gave and demanded respect, and everywhere she possibly could, she made a difference in peoples’ lives.
In 2008 Palmetto Senior High’s athletic director Yvette McKinney (Kim’s former teacher and coach) persuaded her to return to her alma mater to teach physical education and wellness, and serve as head volleyball coach, where she took multiple teams to GMAC, District, and State Championships. Kim applied everything she learned along the way from the importance of conditioning, positivity, respect, work ethic and volleyball skills. Kim was to become Department Chair for Physical Education and was nominated for teacher of the year honors. Her love of beach volleyball expanded her family of lifelong friends in the volleyball community. Her commitment to volleyball combined with her leadership and organizational skills led her to become the Florida Director of Beach Dig Volleyball, where she used beach volleyball to improve the skill levels of her indoor court athletes.
In recognition of Kim’s mentoring of students, whether athletes or not, and helping them to develop good sportsmanship, teamwork, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and an appreciation for what can be accomplished with hard work, all delivered with a kind word, encouragement and a smile, The Village of Palmetto Bay designated October 2nd, 2019 as Coach Kimberly Latshaw Day. They recognized that these efforts are the stepping stones for these students towards personal growth and achievement later in life.
Kim played a key role in the creation of the beach volleyball courts at Coral Reef Park which were recently dedicated in her honor by Palmetto Bay. Kim was a volunteer for Special Olympics, where her athlete students mentored participants. She led fundraising drives by providing Palmetto students who needed community service hours for various athletic events in South Florida. No student she ever taught at either school has forgotten what she meant as a teacher and a person. She is also well-remembered for pushing her volleyball athletes to be the best they could be, which helped some of her students earn college scholarships.
With two growing children who needed a mother around, Kim had to give up the coaching volleyball part of her life at Palmetto.
In mid-2019 at age 46, Kim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She battled this malicious disease for almost 2 years while inspiring her friends, colleagues and a volleyball community with her spirit, determination and faith in God. Even in this up and down struggle, Kim innovated with her 170+ followers on WhatsApp by requesting they send her jokes, silly pictures of themselves, videos clips etc. on the days she would endure 6 hour chemo infusions. And in-between – Kim continues to teach her classes. Even thru her most difficult journey, her courage and selflessness inspired and drew people to her. She offered help to other patients dealing with pancreatic cancer and developed recommendations for diets for those who were hospitalized. Before leaving Baptist Hospital for Hospice care, her oncological and surgical teams visited together to say goodbye. At her request, all joined hands and Kim prayed not for herself, but that the doctors and nurses not be discouraged that they had failed her in any way, but that they would have HIS blessing and the courage to continue fighting a disease that kills many of their patients within months.
In May 2021 Kim was honored by receiving a Proclamation from the Village of Palmetto Bay in recognition of her contributions to her students, athletes and the community.
Her hallmark smile, positivity, faith and dedication to her students, ability to find the best in everyone, and efforts to make a difference in the lives of everyone has had an indelible impact on anyone who has known her.
Kim has taught us - That what you get out of life depends on what you put into it , and she gave it everything she had. She unconsciously (or her life has) offered us all a challenge and quietly showed us: - ONE WAY TO HAVE A REWARDING LIFE - HERE AND BEYOND - IS TO JUST LIVE LIKE KIM!
Kim passed away on Saturday, January 30, 2021.
Kim's caring about others now lives on in the hearts and minds of all who knew her, and now by way of THE DIG LIKE KIM FOUNDATION, which will benefit deserving high school athletes.