When it comes to coping with the stresses of being a scholar-athlete, many kids are finding that Matters
Not too long ago, the image of a Black athlete smiling broadly into a camera’s lens waving hello to mom was a common occurrence. Likewise, many a parent’s dream of a new home was realized when their child signed a multimillion-dollar contract.
But what about the Black athlete scholar? Why don’t we hear more about renaissance men like the great Paul Robeson, who triumphed on the field and in the classroom? The crucial role that parents play in the academic and athletic success of scholar-athletes is only now gaining serious attention.
While poring over this year’s entries for the award, the BI staff found three families with an extended tradition of athletic and scholarly excellence. These athletes came from environments that held academics in high esteem. Several themes are common among the families we profile.
Academic priorities are what set apart the Turners, including Dr. Rick Turner, dean of African-American Studies at the University of Virginia and his wife, Tamrya, who insisted that hitting the books came before hitting the courts; the Webbers, who wouldn’t let their children — including National Basketball Association star Chris — play sports unless they kept their grades up; and the Catchings, where former NBA star Harvey Catching constantly reminds his daughters of the importance of getting their college degrees.
Hajj Malik Turner has had a difficult introduction to life as a college athlete. Instead of spending time racking up points on the basketball court for the University of Louisville Cardinals, Turner has been sidelined with knee injuries for two years. Rather than let his injuries get him down however, Turner has excelled in his studies, earning a 4.0 and becoming, for the past three semesters, a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society.
“Everyone tells you that basketball won’t last, but I think I have had to face athletic mortality a lot earlier in my career,” says Turner, who is a junior but has two years of academic eligibility left.
Turner credits his family for giving him the ability to keep things in perspective. “I was raised in a tight knit family,” he says. “Most people don’t have that kind of support. The thing I hold closest to my heart is my family. My parents are my biggest heroes and my big brother and sister are my biggest role models.”
Like his father before him, the younger Turner is studying Pan African Studies at Louisville. His name, Hajj Malik, is Malcolm X’s Muslim name.
When his children were young, Rick Turner says he and his wife, an English professor at Piedmont Community College, had a plan.
“We didn’t plan to pay for college. Our kids were going to college on an academic or athletic scholarship,” he says.
So the Turners dedicated themselves to preparing their children, Tarik, Mandisa and Hajj, to succeed in the classroom and on the court. All three children won basketball scholarships to Division I universities.
Turner considers it so important that Black parents be involved in their children’s education that he runs the Parent Advisory Committee at the University of Virginia.
“Everybody is not going to get a college scholarship or go the NBA,” Turner says. “That’s why athletes have to excel in the classroom as well as on the court.”
Tarik played basketball at St. John’s University from 1994 to 1998 and also in Finland. Their daughter, Mandisa, played basketball at George Washington University and will graduate this year with a degree in engineering.
Hajj credits his parents’ vigilance with keeping him on the straight and narrow. Rick Turner was the coach for many of his children’s teams, which helped. But like many a teenager, Hajj says he had a tendency to get distracted in school.
“My parents made it real clear that if we didn’t do what we were supposed to in school, we couldn’t play sports,” he says. “In the eighth grade, I didn’t come through on what I had to do and I had to quit the season.”
After his knee injury, Hajj threw himself into his academic work and became even more thankful for his parents.
“It’s hard to deal with sometimes, but my family was always there for me.”
He’d like to play basketball professionally, but plans to become an educator like his father if his athletic career doesn’t pan out.
“It became even more important for me to do well in college,” he says, “because I’m not going to fall off the face of the earth because I’m not playing basketball.”
When Tamika and Tauja Catchings watched their father play basketball in the NBA during the ‘80s, they never dreamed that they would one day follow in his footsteps.
But this spring, Tamika, a University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer, won the Naismith award, making her the top women’s basketball player in the nation. She and her teammates also made it to the National College Athletics Association Championship before losing to the University of Connecticut earlier this month.
Her sister, Tauja Catchings, is also a powerhouse on the court as a forward for the University of Illinois. The team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season.
In the height of the tournament season, with the pressure of constant travel and practice, the Catching sisters say their parents’ lessons become more important. When the sisters were younger, their parents divorced and Tauja lived with their mother in Chicago, while Tamika lived with their father in Texas.
“In high school, whenever I would say this is way too much, my mom would never let me back down. She would stress the importance of staying focused and being organized,” Tauja says.
When they were playing basketball in high school, Harvey Catchings always impressed on his daughters the importance of finishing college. He got drafted into the NBA in 1974, before he could finish his undergraduate degree at Hardin Simmons University.
“He always says, ‘The older you get, the harder it is for you go back,’ ” says Tauja.
The Catchings have four children: Christy, Kenyon, Tauja and Tamika. Harvey always thought it would be his son who would follow in his footsteps. And it seemed that Kenyon would have a great basketball career when he was named an All-American in high school. But he developed colitis, which ended his basketball career.
“He could have felt sorry for himself and talked about what might have been,” Harvey says. “But he dusted himself off and got an academic scholarship to Northern Illinois.” He now works in international marketing at Motorola.
“Many athletes who come through the system don’t use the system to their advantage,” says Harvey, who played for Milwaukee and Philadelphia. “They let the system use them. I always told my children, ‘They can take the basketball out of your hands, but they can’t take the education out of your head.’ “
For Tamika, schoolwork has always been important.
“It was always the first thing I did when I came home from school,” she says.
Her discipline paid off. She was an honors student in high school and was a member of the Southeastern Conference All Academic Team in her sophomore year.
She faced an additional challenge in school because she is hearing impaired. Tamika refused to wear her hearing aid from the time she was in sixth grade until just two years ago. “Kids made fun of me just because of the way I talked,” she says.
Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summit convinced her that she could do better in the classroom and on the court by wearing an aid.
“She told me if I was going to become successful, I’d have to wear a hearing aid,” Tamika says.
Tauja says the sisters talk often and they’ve learned a lot from each other about time management, studying and basketball.
“There are times when you’ve got two papers, two exams and games and practice. There are weeks when you feel you will lose your mind, but you stick it out,” Tauja says.
When Jason Webber graduates from Central Michigan this spring, he will be the first male in his family to get his college degree. And although he admires his famous brother, Golden State Warrior Chris Webber, he doesn’t plan to follow in his footsteps.
He has applied to law school and plans to get a joint juris doctorate and master’s in business administration with an emphasis on marketing. Unlike many college athletes who dream of playing in the NBA, Webber says, “I’m not good enough to play in the NBA. I like basketball and I wanted to play in college.”
But beyond an appreciation for the sport, he admits he had a more important reason for playing.
“I wanted to have my college education paid for.”
His mother, Doris, a teacher and his father, Mayce, both stressed the importance of education. They sent their kids to Detroit Country Day School and told their sons that before they could play sports, they had to bring home good grades.
“They wouldn’t cut us any slack,” Webber says. “Before basketball came academics. My father is a retired autoworker and he said he never wanted us to have to work at a monotonous factory job.”
Although Webber says student athletes have to juggle sports and academics, he believes it possible to excel at both with good time management skills.
During away games, “I study on the bus or at the hotel,” says Webber, who has made the dean’s list for the past three years. “I tell my professors when I have a game so I can make up the work. I don’t see why you can’t play basketball, have a good GPA and still have some fun. Basketball is such a small portion of life. You still have a lot of life to live after basketball is over.”
His brother, David, a sophomore guard for Central Michigan, is the team’s most valuable player and was named the Mid-American Scholar Athlete of the Week this year.
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