Tamika Catchings is a women’s basketball legend on and off the court. In addition to being an NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist, Catchings’ ongoing 13-year WNBA career with the Indiana Fever is among the most accomplished in league history. Yet her off-court work is just as inspiring, as she runs her own foundation, has been recognized by the likes of Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama, and is in her second year as National Ambassador to the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team.
Catchings’ team was unveiled on Feb. 11, as it honors 10 special female basketball players from Division I, II, III and the NAIA who are also leaders in their communities. They will be recognized during the Women’s Final Four in Nashville on April 6 and 8, and will take part in a local community project on that weekend as well.
“We wanted to put together a program that would highlight the good work that these young ladies were doing in their communities,” Catchings said in an interview on Feb. 11. She stated that it was a way to “basically put the girls on a pedestal and tell people of all the great things they’re doing.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the roster is made up entirely of seniors, including Kentucky’s Kastine Evans, Hartford’s Alyssa Englert, McNeese State’s NeTanya Jones, Purdue’s Courtney Moses, and Shayla Bivins from the Georgia Institute of Technology. From Division II, III and NAIA, Catchings helped pick Loyola New Orleans’ Jasmine Brewer, Union’s Amy Loya, Worcester State’s Michel’le St. Pierre, Minnesota State’s Alexandra Wilkinson and Illinois Wesleyan’s Alexa Baltes.
Last year’s Good Works Team went to a local children’s hospital in New Orleans during the Women’s Final Four and had “a lot of fun,” according to Catchings. This year’s project hasn’t been finalized yet, but Catchings plans to meet all of the girls individually and give them “a little pep talk.”
This kind of personal involvement in charitable works is nothing new to Catchings, who has pioneered it for much of her career and her life. Among her accomplishments, she has run her own organization for disadvantaged youth called the Catch the Stars Foundation since 2004, was named by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the U.S. Department of State Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports, and has helped First Lady Michelle Obama in her campaign against childhood obesity.
Allstate reached out to Catchings for the Good Works Team because of her legacy of giving back, which was forged by her parents and her own challenges in battling a hearing impairment in both ears. “Even while I was growing up, that was something that my parents stressed, the importance about me giving back,” Catchings said, as she was always conscious of people that weren’t “as fortunate as us.”
Catchings’ commitment to helping those people has been as much a part of her as her basketball career. Since starting the Catch the Stars Foundation, “The amount of people we’ve been able to impact in 10 years kind of goes beyond the things that I’ve done on the court,” she said. “The people that you inspire along the way are the ones that will hopefully carry on your legacy, and continue to do things wherever they are.”
Nevertheless, Catchings has as much of a legacy on the court as well. She was a winner right off the bat, as she helped Tennessee win the national championship in 1997-98 during her freshman season. After college, she won three Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and won the WNBA MVP and championship in her 10th season with the Fever in 2011.
Catchings has witnessed a lot of change and growth in women’s basketball over the years, as the WNBA had just gotten started during her freshman year at Tennessee. Now that female basketball players can strive for a pro career, it has deepened the talent pool over the years, according to Catchings, because young women have started playing earlier and are “dreaming about being in the WNBA.”
As for the college game, Catchings is naturally rooting for Tennessee to join her and the Good Works Team in the Women’s Final Four. Even with all her commitments, she tries to make sure she stays in touch with her alma mater and “visit here and there.”
While Catchings may be in the second half of her pro career, she is nowhere near her final years, as she proved by leading the Fever to a championship after a decade of waiting. But she wants several more titles before her career is done, while also planning to “continue to use the platform that I have” to do great things on and off the court.
Once her retirement comes, Catchings hopes to “go on a real vacation,” although her work will never really be done. She doesn’t want to get out of shape, as she learned the importance of a structured life during college. “When you’re so used to having a structure through college, by the time you get out of college you still kind of live your life, structured from what you learned,” Catchings explained.
Catchings’ structure has kept the Catch the Stars Foundation going strong for 10 years, as it is going ahead in this milestone year with mentoring programs, handing out $2500 scholarships and “moving forward to the future.”
Between that, the AllState Good Works Team and another season ahead with the Fever, Catchings clearly has no plans to go anywhere but forward any time soon.
WNBA.com – Tamika Catchings
The Wall Street Journal – “National Association of Basketball Coaches, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, Allstate Name 20 College Basketball Players to 2014 Good Works Team”
ESPN W – “Tamika Catchings’ Hearing Loss Not An Impairment”
Catch the Stars