Friday, February 18, 2011

Former Lady Vol, UT team up off court

One of UT's favorite daughters returned to campus this week with an opportunity in hand.

Former Lady Vol basketball player Tamika Catchings announced at a press conference on Monday afternoon the partnership of her foundation, the Catch the Stars Foundation, with the UT College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, as well as Knox County Schools.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt was on hand to introduce Catchings to gathered media at Thompson-Boling Arena's media center, along with College of Education, Health and Human Sciences dean Bob Rider and I-LEAD Director and Professor Fritz G. Polite.

"It's a real pleasure and honor for me to be here today," Summitt said. "Tamika Catchings is not only a great basketball player, she's an even better person."

The Catch the Stars Foundation, which was founded by Catchings in 2004, aims to provide positive role models for youth in communities. Catchings spearheaded the union with UT as a means of helping at-risk high school students in Knoxville. Knox County Schools, represented by school superintendent Jim McIntyre, also joined in the partnership.

Catchings said growing up as the son of former NBA player Harvey Catchings helped spark her interest in community service.

"We started the Catch (the) Stars Foundation way back in 2004, but it actually started before that," Catchings said. "Even as a small girl, I remember going out to do community appearances with my dad. That kind of showed me that there are other people out there to give back to."

The former Olympic gold medalist, WNBA All-Star and NCAA champion said a yearning to give back only increased when she reached Tennessee as a student-athlete.

"I got here to the University of Tennessee, and being underneath Pat (Summitt), and obviously the program, one of the things we had to do was more community service," Catchings said.

After tearing her ACL during her senior year at UT, Catchings was rehabbing her knee during her rookie season with the WNBA's Indiana Fever. Catchings made it clear to the Fever coaches that her time off the court would not be wasted.

"I remember going to Indiana, and one of the things I told them was, 'Look, I don't want to be home, woe is me. I don't want to be nursing my knee worried about myself,'" Catchings said. "I want to be around kids, because kids make me happy."

In 2001, Catchings started her first basketball camp, which celebrated its 10th year this past season. The response from local families was so strong in Indiana that Catchings started her mentoring program. The partnership with UT will help bring the organization's mentoring and leadership development to Knoxville. Through the CEHHS, Polite and Rider will oversee the program.

Summitt said Catchings' community involvement comes as no surprise to her former coach.

"She was one of those people you always knew had her priorities in order," Summitt said. "When you have your priorities in order, great things can happen.

"She's a shining star and a great example to all of us. What she's doing here today speaks volumes in that regard."

For Catchings, the goal is simple: Make a difference in the future of every child possible.

"We want to make sure that with the girls and the boys, not only do we just offer the programs, but we want to make sure they learn something and that they're able to move forward in life," Catchings said. "For me, I had a lot of mentors, a lot of people that helped me, a lot of people who I could say thank you to.

"With Catch (the) Stars Foundation, my mission is always to empower. I'm really excited about the partnership."

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