May 11, 2011
by Debby Jennings, Assoc. AD for Media Relations
Former University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball standout Tamika Catchings was in Knoxville this afternoon and gave the commencement address at her alma mater's School of Education, Health and Human Sciences in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Catchings sandwiched the commencement address in between three days of training with the USA National Team in Las Vegas, Nev., May 10-12.
"We are honored to have University of Tennessee alumna Tamika Catchings return to Knoxville to speak at our 2011 commencement ceremonies," said Dr. Bob Rider, Dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
"She graduated from our college in 2000, earning a B.S. degree in three-and-a-half years and received her master's in sport management in 2005. All along, Tamika has been a tremendous ambassador for UT as a two-time Olympian, a standout player in the WNBA as a six time All Star and through her charitable foundation, Catch the Stars.
"She is a great role model and someone we are excited to have address our 2011 graduating class. It is for that reason and many more that we are honoring her as the first recipient of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences Distinguished Alumnus Award."
In her 16-minute address, Catchings challenged the 2011 graduates to "leave their legacy." She asked the graduates how they want to be remembered and related to them that she wants to be known more for her off the court accomplishments than the ones on the court. "I use my Foundation as my platform," Catchings said.
She left the graduating class with three things to consider: 1)In life...Passion is a Must, 2)Always strive to be better today than yesterday, and 3)Losing is sometimes necessary in order to win.
Catchings, a decorated 10-year member of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, was a Lady Vol hoop star from 1997-2001 and helped to capture the 1998 NCAA title with a perfect 39-0 record.
A gifted student, Catchings over-achieved at everything she pursued at UT both on and off the basketball court. It wasn't until December of her freshman year in Knoxville that she disclosed she had a hearing disability and wore gawky looking hearing aids as a child. Despite not being able to hear some high frequency tones, she shed them in high school to avoid teasing by her classmates.
Behind the encouragement of her Lady Vol coaches, staffers and teammates, Catchings tried wearing hearing aids again and turned into an overnight spokesperson about overcoming a hearing disability. The Eleanor Roosevelt League for the Hard of Hearing honored Catchings in June of 1998 for her basketball accomplishments despite being hearing impaired.
Despite her challenges, the four-time Kodak All-America graduated ahead of her class in Sport Management in December 2000 and started work on her master's degree as she completed her Lady Vol eligibility. Over the next several years, she sandwiched her WNBA obligations, overseas play, stints on the USA National Teams and work with her Catch the Stars Foundation, to finish her master's in 2005.
"As a player, I have always said that Catch never took a possession off...ever," said Lady Vol head basketball coach Pat Summitt. "The same can be said for her life outside of basketball and the difference she has made in so many lives through her Foundation."
Catchings began her Foundation, Catch the Stars, in 2004 to empower youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring. This past February 2011, she was back on Rocky Top to announce a partnership with UT's College of Education, Health and Human Sciences to help at-risk high school students in Knoxville.
As well as being a perennial All-Star who has finished among the top five in WNBA MVP balloting during eight of her nine active pro seasons, she is considered one the best all-around players in the WNBA. She was named one of the "Top 5 Most Positive Athletes in the World" by the United Nations NGO Voting Academy. Additionally, she was one of 10 finalists for the Jefferson Awards, known as the "Nobel Prize for community service." Catchings was a 2004 invitee to George W. Bush's State of the Union address and she has earned countless citizen-athlete honors.