For anyone who has been bullied or picked on, it is likely a dream to some day make those antagonizers eat their words. Tamika Catchings was once the butt of many jokes – picked on for her looks, her braces, or her hearing and speech problems. Catchings’ desire could have been to hurt those who once hurt her, but she instead focused her energy on becoming successful at a sport she loved. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the WNBA All-Star, Champion, Rookie of the Year, and Olympic gold medalist is now celebrating ten years since she started her Catch the Stars Foundation to help the youth of Indianapolis.
“That’s a lot of the reason that she’s so passionate about helping kids,” said Tauja Catchings, who serves alongside her younger sister leading the foundation. “[Tamika] is showing them that you know what, ‘I had a lot of people that told me I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t be anything, I was ugly or I was stupid… But look at me now.’”
Drafted by the Indiana Fever in 2001, Tamika was unable to play for the entire season due to an injury she sustained her senior year at the University of Tennessee. It would’ve been easy for her to pack up her stuff and head home, or rehab privately. Instead, she began to seek ways to get involved in her new hometown, first partnering with the Fever and then hosting a local basketball clinic.
“I really got involved from the standpoint of not wanting to go home, and be at home doing nothing” Tamika said. “We did a week-long camp for ages seven all the way up to 15. After the camp, the parents wanted more.”
Tamika, with the help of Tauja brought the camp back the following year, adding an aspect of canned goods donation and working with a local food bank. But still, there were requests for more. In 2004, the Catch the Stars Foundation was officially established.
Among their many avenues of involvement, both women cite the annual scholarship dinner as a consistently proud moment. Each year guest speakers are brought in, and student athletes in their senior year of high school throughout central Indiana are nominated by their schools for the award. One male and one female are given what began as a $1000 grant, and is now a $2500 renewable four-year scholarship. However, the foundation hopes to one day be able to support a student with full tuition throughout all four years.
“We want the kids that don’t have scholarship opportunities, and probably aren’t even going to play a sport in college unless it’s intramural,” emphasized Tauja. “We just kind of want those good kids that have been a part of a team, and are good teammates, good role models, good leaders, and good students.
“We also don’t just give kids a scholarship and say ‘yea, keep it moving’” she pointed out. “We want that relationship, we want to know how they’re doing. This year we brought back the 2012 male winner and even at dinner he talked about wanting to go to law school and we said ‘great, we have some board members that we could pair you with just to give you another mentor.’”
Amelia Carney, scholar athlete award winner
Warren Central High School (Student Council member)
Attending Marian University to study nursing in the fall
“It really is a relief for me, as I’m starting this next chapter in my life to have this kind of finaicial assistance, I feel really blessed to receive this. It was really great getting to meet her, she’s so down to earth, and you can just tell she’s genuine.”
Shakur Smith, scholar athlete award winner
Shortridge High School (Valedictorian)
Attending Abilene Christian University to study business and finance
“To succeed just takes a lot of character and depends on how focused you are. Personally, I work and I have school. I also took classes at Butler University so I had to balance college work with high school work. And then I had to come back at the end of the day and play football and be a leader on the team.”
Both sisters point out that even after ten years, they still consider themselves a grassroots organization. They are hands-on at practically every event, including the planning, setup and breakdown, and with a very limited staff they rely heavily on volunteers. While this makes things a bit more challenging, they cite this approach as enabling them to, among other things, keep in close contact with kids they’ve taught or mentored over the years.
Not surprisingly they credit their parents for this work ethic and natural desire to be present in the community. Their father played in the NBA for 11 years, and regular service opportunities were a family tradition.
“At Thanksgiving we were giving out turkeys, on Christmas we were giving out our toys” Tamika remembered. “It was just one of those things that we did as a family. So I know that seed was planted then.”
A keynote speaker is usually one of the scholarship dinner evening’s highlights, but this year in celebration of the ten-year anniversary it was Tamika that spoke to the crowd. She shared her story, reiterating how important she feels the foundation can be, and how their three main focuses – fitness, literacy, and mentoring – can be used to continue to help others.
“It amazes me that she can now get up and speak to so many people with such poise and confidence and no fear at all,” said Tauja. “And her story makes her that much more relatable.”
To find out more information about Catch the Stars, or to register for one of their upcoming events such as the annual Back to School Celebration please visit catchthestars.org.