Tamika Catchings is one of those people who just makes you smile.
Every time I’m around her, she puts me in a good mood. She’s talented, successful, and already giving back.
Catchings, 32, came to Indianapolis in 2001 after being drafted by the Indiana Fever at No. 3. Indy has become her home and she has made the most of it — by being the face of the Fever (and one of the WNBA’s best players), by embracing Indianapolis and by establishing her ‘Catch The Stars Foundation.’
Last week, for the seventh straight year, Catchings held a scholar athlete reception honoring Indianapolis students who “excel in academics, make a difference in the community and participate in athletics.” Held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, about thirty student-athletes were recognized for outstanding work, with one male and one female each taking home a scholarship.
For the second-straight year, the night featured an inspiring keynote speaker who went over well with both the students and supporters at the celebration. The speaker this year was former Colts head coach and current NBC analyst for “Football Night in America” Tony Dungy.
“He’s amazing,” Catchings said that night. “Last year, Clark (Kellogg) was our first keynote and now Tony. I don’t know where we go from here.”
Dungy has written three books about life, focusing on how to be successful and achieve significance. This audience and these young kids were just the type of group he loves addressing. And Tamika believes he was the perfect example because of the way he lives.
“For me, it’s all about character. I want somebody that has walked the walked and talked the talk. When you think about Clark Kellogg and when you think about Tony Dungy and the success that both of them have had, they are people that you want these kids to see and that you want these kids to have access to.”
As you can imagine, Coach Dungy is asked to speak at a lot of events, more than he has time for. So I asked him why he accepted the invitation to speak at this one.
“Tamika Catchings is just so special,” Dungy said. “Her spirit and her desire to give back to the community and then it’s recognizing student-athletes. I think that’s such an important message for our young people to take care of business in the classroom as well as on the field.”
This years winners, Joshua Piercey and Ashley McIntyre, each received a $2,500 scholarship towards their degree. And this year, for the first time ever, it is a renewable scholarship. If the two students stay on the right path and meet certain requirements, they will have the opportunity to receive $10,000 over four years for their education. That’s something everyone involved in the Catch The Stars Foundation is extremely proud of.
“Every single person that has won it has gone on and graduated from college and is doing something with their life,” Catchings said with a proud grin. “I think that’s what you hope an award like this does.”
Catchings’ on-the-court awards speak to the kind of player she is — Rookie of the Year in 2002, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (2004, 2008), seven-time WNBA All-Star, four-time Defensive Play of the Year, and Most Valuable Player last season.
Off the court, she’s just as important. And for her to be able to give back and help young student-athletes is special.
“For me, it’s an honor to be able to do this. When you come here and the kids are so appreciated, the parents are beside themselves…it’s something that hopefully the kids will remember the rest of their lives.”
Indianapolis has been very fortunate to have not just one, but multiple MVP’s serve as quality role models for young people. Coach Dungy, who also has made a significant impact on the community, recognized this.
“I don’t know why that it but it has been a blessing,” Dungy said. “And to see Reggie Miller, Tamika, Peyton — that’s what it’s all about.”
It has been a joy to watch Tamika positively impact today’s youth. And you can watch her on the court this summer beginning Saturday (May 19th) with the Fever, and at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.