Here's to Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever - in a huge playoff game tonight in the WNBA (since the Chicago Sky are out of the running...boo hoo) - gotta love Tamika - a homey who starred on the women's basketball team at Stevenson H.S. in Lincolnshire and then went on to star for my favorite University of Tennessee Lady Vols. She's a WNBA standout, an Olympic gold medalist and one of the classiest athletes and human beings you could ever want to meet. Tamika is kind, giving, an athletic goddess and she deserves a WNBA title to add to her super impressive resume. I had the pleasure of meeting Tamika about 8 years ago when my dear late friend Olympian Willye White had asked her to come in to speak at the annual Willye White Winners' Dinner which was an event which honored Chicago's top female scholar-athletes. Held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, there would always be over 500 people at the awards dinner - the honorees, their families and coaches and teammates...it was a huge honor to receive this award as it honored not only athletic prowess but as important to Willye White...academics. I always helped Willye coordinate this annual dinner and took photos for her during the evening. So early that evening she introduced me to Tamika Catchings who would be the celebrity guest speaker. I can't explain it, but some people you meet, and you just hit it off...and that's how it was with Tamika and me. She confided in me that she was a bit nervous about speaking in front of so many people, but I assured her that this audience of female athletes were in awe of her and just wanted to be in the same room with her and that getting to hear her speak was a bonus! It seemed to calm her down and she went up there and wowed everyone in the room with her sweet smile and ultra motivational words...needless to say, she blew the crowd away and got a standing ovation. After her speech she came and sat down next to me and said " was I okay?" I reassured her that her speech was quite literally a slam dunk. I found it quite endearing that she felt insecure about this whole affair - someone so talented and with so many accomplishments feeling insecure? If you put most people in front of a crowd of over 500 people and you ask them to speak, the majority of them would be neurotic too. For Tamika, who had some major hearing problems as a child, her biggest fear was that the people would not be able to understand her as she spoke...her worst fears were allayed and she finally started to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.
We've remained friends since that evening when we first met and I've supported her Catch the Stars Foundation based in Indianapolis which Catchings created in the spring of 2004. The foundation provides youth with organized programs geared toward motivating them to set goals, dream bigger and achieve more - a foundation that paralleled the Willye White Foundation here in Chicago of which I served on the Board ( sadly it fell apart after Willye's passing in '07 as it took the heart and soul out of us all). I know Willye would be pleased I was helping out Tamika in her quest to provide kids with sporting opportunities and important life lessons - a cause that Willye cared so much about too.
So, Tamika and the Indiana Fever - I wish you well tonight in your playoff game against Connecticut and in my heart I hope you go all the way so Catchings gets her WNBA title to add to her magnificent resume. It couldn't happen to a more deserving or nicer person in all of sports.
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