It’s not often that one gets the opportunity to have a conversation with a former NCAA champion, WNBA Finals MVP and three-time Olympic gold medalist. Well, I had the pleasure of chopping it up with a player with all of these accolades: Indiana Fever forward, Tamika Catchings. Once I get my game up, I’m going to call her and challenge her to a game of H-O-R-S-E.
In the meantime, eavesdrop on our conversation and learn how Tamika’s commitment to youth enrichment through sports is creating a pipeline to successful futures and why she believes every athlete is obligated to give back.
EBONY: With childhood obesity concerns in America, particularly for youth of color, besides physical health, what are the positive effects of sports for young people?
Tamika Catchings: When you look at sports on a whole, the biggest thing that comes out of it is confidence. I was born with a hearing problem and I had to wear a hearing aide growing up. Kids picked on me and I had to find an area where I could be like every one else. I found that in athletics. I saw that they [kids] started to look at me for being an athlete rather than only seeing me for my hearing problem. Confidence is really the biggest long-term result of sports. There’s also leadership, healthy eating and living. And hey, when you’re active, you just feel better.
EBONY: Your foundation, Catch the Stars, has done great work. How has its programming impacted the local community of Indianapolis?
TC: We focus on three areas: fitness, literacy and mentoring. We have 13 programs that span each of those. In our fitness clinics and basketball camps the one thing that we stress is: fitness can be fun. These kids aren’t at the professional level yet so we want them to experience basketball on an amateur level. At our recent three-day Holiday Basketball Camp, more than 220 local young people gained priceless basketball and sportsmanship training. They also received a special talk from Indiana Colts star, Reggie Wayne.
Academics are also an important element. Over the years we have provided more than 500 supply- filled backpacks at the beginning of the school year. We also promote literacy throughout the city with “reading corners” filled with books in local stores. Currently our reading corners are in the Christel House Academy & Brookside Park Family Center.
And last we believe in mentoring. Through two six-week sessions in the fall and spring, Court STARS (Sisters Teaching And Reaching Sisters) and Court CHAMPS (Changing Habits And Making People Successful) teach girls and boys 12 – 16 about important life skills to help them make healthy life choices.
EBONY: As a professional athlete, tell us why it has been important for you to have a presence in your local community and why it is critical for other professional athletes to show up in their communities.
TC: It’s important to me because there were people who helped me growing up. We moved a lot because my dad was a professional athlete. As we moved it became important to know where I could leave my footprint. Impacting the kids in your community is really about leaving your legacy for when you’re done playing the sport you’re playing.
EBONY: Why should college athletes be equally as involved in their communities? What is the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team? And what qualities do the athletes possess to receive this distinction?
TC: Stardom begins in the cities where these colleges are located. For example, at the University of Tennessee, giving back is the thing to do! You are a star in that city because you give back and you become somebody the kids can relate to.
The Allstate WBCA Good Works Team award was put together to shine a light on the positive works college athletes are doing in the community. It’s hard being a student athlete. You have to be student, an athlete and have a personal life too! Service to their community is something these honorees want to do and it says a lot about them. For example, Purdue University’s Courtney Moses, took several of her teammates to South Africa and co-founded a pair of Purdue community service groups: Boiler-Maker-Wish and the IMPACT Mentoring program. Michel’le St. Pierre from Worcester State University, proudly serves in the Army National Guard and has been activated for five natural disasters and provided emergency services during the past three years; including the recent Boston Marathon Bombing. She did all of this while maintaining her status as a student-athlete and mentoring children with cancer.
To know they [the girls] are doing this on top of their schoolwork is phenomenal. This is a commitment you choose to make versus one that is forced upon you.
We often see athletes giving when there are cameras to catch the moment. It’s reassuring to know an athlete as accomplished as Tamika lives her life on purpose when there is no one watching. And to know there are young people committed to changing the world by changing their community should give us a little more hope for the next generation.
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a millennial writer/blogger with a passion for community engagement and giving. She is the owner of Friends of Ebonie, the social impact company dedicated to encouraging young, Black philanthropy. Ebonie enjoys singing off-key and dancing on beat. Follow her at @EJCthatsMe.