By Maureen Hayden
CNHI News Service
— Title IX opened up a world of opportunities for talented female athletes like professional basketball player Tamika Catchings.
In high school in Illinois and later Texas, she twice won state titles and player-of-the-year honors. As a freshman at the University of Tennessee, she helped lead the Lady Vols to a national championship.
A member of the Indiana Fever pro basketball team since 2001, she's been named an WNBA all-star seven times and defensive player-of-the-year an unprecedented four times. She won the league’s most valuable player award in 2011. This summer she will compete in her third Olympic games for team USA.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview with Catchings on what it's been like to grow up with the support of Title IX.
Q: Tell us about your family. Your dad, Harvey Catchings, played 11 seasons in the NBA. You had an older brother, Kenton, who was a good basketball player. And like you, your sister, Tauja, also played in the WBNA.
TC: I was pretty much born into a basketball family. My father was in the latter part of his playing career when I was born, but I got to watch a little bit. I was in third grade when I played my first organized basketball. We were part of a parks and rec league, and our father was my sister's and my coach on an all-boy team. We played that first year and then ended up starting up a girls league after that. I was in seventh grade when I made the goal to play in the NBA.
Q: How was your dad as a coach?
TC: I loved that my dad wasn't going to take it easy on me because I was a girl. I was the ultimate tomboy growing up, so I thought that I could do anything a boy could do, even better. Once I made the commitment to play in the NBA, my dad pushed me like never before. But, he always gave me the option that if my goal ever changed and I didn't want to play anymore I didn't have too. I loved that about my dad.
Q: What role did your mom, Wanda, play in encouraging you at sports?
TC: My mom was the glue to our family. The cool thing is that my mom actually ran track, so she was pretty quick, and she played tennis. So, sports was in our genes for sure. I remember days when we would take family walks and my mom would challenge us to run home. For whatever reason, I was always the last one.
Q: Research shows playing sports helps young women with their body image. Has it helped you?
TC: I am very confident on and off the court because the body I have has allowed me to have a great career. Although I've fought through some injuries, being able to bounce back and work hard to get back on the court has been something important to me.
Q: Do you think a female athlete needs to "play like a guy" to be successful?
TC: I don't think we have to "play like a guy" to be successful, but when women are successful, automatically people try to find a male comparison to them. I don't know why it's like that.
Q: You were recently the subject of a story that showed that pay for WBNA players was much lower than pay for NBA players. What do you think about that?
TC: That's a touchy subject no matter what, because when you start talking about money, it's just difficult. We're still in the pioneering stages of the WNBA (founded in 1996.) I hope that over time, the ladies will be able to make more money in this sport. But until then, we can't complain over something that won't change this season. I love what I do and am thankful that I get to play in the WNBA in front of my family, friends and fans.