Eighty-four women's college basketball players have been nominated for the 2014 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and Allstate Insurance Company jointly announced today. The final 10 selections to the honorary team, which recognizes an elite group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service, will be unveiled in February and honored during the concurrent 2014 WBCA Convention and NCAA Division I Women's Final Four slated to be held from April 6-8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn., where they will also participate in a community service project.
Modeled after a similar program sponsored by Allstate in association with the American Football Coaches Association since 2008, the basketball version of the award is now in its second years. Candidates are nominated by coaches and sports information directors on behalf of their respective schools. The ultimate award recipients are selected by a voting panel, headlined by 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), who is widely revered for her own commitment to giving back to the community, together with a mix of former men's and women's college players, current and former coaches, media representatives, and Pam Hollander, senior director of marketing for Allstate. (A corresponding Good Works Team, sponsored by Allstate in conjunction with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, will honor male college basketball athletes.)
With her own nonprofit, the Catch a Star Foundation preparing to celebrate its 10th year, Catchings said she lent her name and her time to the Good Works Team because "it's really important to be ... role models for all the younger players coming up, showing them that, 'Yeah, everything I do on the court is great, and I practice just like they do, and I went to school just like they do, but being able to make time for those kids or those people that may not be as fortunate [is what really counts].' And I love the work that a lot of these young women are doing in their communities -- whether they're starting their own not-for-profit organizations or teaming up [with others]. It's just important ... to show them that even as much as I do on the court, I'm probably just as prideful of what I do off the court. Or, I should say, just as excited. I love being in the community and working with kids."
The award honors players at all levels of college basketball who represent the sport’s finest in the areas of leadership and charitable achievements amongst their peers. Five of the 10 members of the WBCA Good Works Team will selected from among the 52 nominees representing NCAA Division I programs, while the other five athletes will be drawn from the 32 nominations submitted by Division II, III and NAIA institutions.
"The WBCA is honored to partner with Allstate in selecting the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team for the second year,” said Beth Bass chief executive officer of the WBCA. “Each of the 84 young women who have been nominated by their respective head coaches for this prestigious honor have set examples that we all should follow. The selection committee will have a difficult time in selecting the 10-member team from this outstanding group of nominees.”
Catchings, too, was impressed by the high level of commitment to public service demonstrated by the nominees, as well as their ability to integrate their volunteerism successfully into the limited free time available in schedules already cram-packed by the competing demands of academics, practices, travel and athletic competition. The nominees "have done some amazing things," Catchings told Full Court. "We always recognize players for what they do on the court, ... but it's really cool to be able to deal with a lot of things they do off the court and ... in the community overall."
Catchings notes that sports in general, but women's basketball, in particular, at all of its levels, seems to be permeated by a sense of obligation to give back, from the high school teams that participate in walk-a-thons or staff bake sales to raise funds for causes such as Operation Smile, to coaches, from Kay Yow to Pat Summitt, who have turned their own adversites into opportunities to raise awareness and support for the fights against breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other life-threatening illnesses. Whether by giving of their time, their celebrity or their money -- or, most often, all of the above -- women's basketball is typically at the forefront when it comes to public serves. Examples of both team and individual commitment abound: In the wake of the tornadoes that devastated Oklahoma, the WNBA's Tulsa Shock was among the boots on the ground helping to rebuild the communities. 2012 MVP Tina Charles donated a substantial portion of her WNBA salary that season to build a school in Africa. And the 2014 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team nominees provide 84 fresh examples of this spirit of volunteerism.
We asked Catchings what it is about women's basketball that seems to fuel this culture devoted to giving and sharing. "I think the biggest thing is just when you look at basketball and sports overall and all the things that it teaches you, when you look at team sports specifically, just having to work together, having to be in different environments, having to play for different coaches depending on what teams you're playing on. For all of us. And when I think about my life, even the camps that I went to, the coaches I was exposed to, the camp counselors, whether they were high school players, or college players, as I got older, and even professional players, you're looking at just the different stages of kind of having that turnaround of players that come back and that give back. So you're already ... imbued with it from a young age, knowing that these players are giving their time back to be a part of your success."
"Especially for the younger kids, being able to see the older -- the high schoolers, the college players -- giving back, makes them want to [do the same]," Catchings continued. "'Oh, I want to be like so-and-so. Whatever she gives to, that's what I want to give to.' As I get older, this is the thing that is really important to me and I want to give back to that."
Catchings said by putting the spotlight on the good works done by athletes, the Good Works Teams provide at least some offset to the inundation of media focus that so often centers on the bad acts of a few that some radio and television stations feature the "athlete arrest of the day." "You do hear about about a lot of players that make a lot of poor decisions off the court," said Catchings. "And with so much time -- or lack thereof, really -- you're supposed to be in class, or study hall, or practice or whatever the case may be, this award is definitely about shining the spotlight on the student-athletes that are dedicated to enriching the lives of others. ... They contribute to the greater good of their community. So it's a win-win for all."
Catchings also noted the impressive range of projects to which basketball players have devoted themselves. "Reading about, whether it's me or my team, or you read about Jeanette Pohlen or Layshia Clarendon or whoever, coming out on my team specifically, to cater to different organizations because of something that their father had, or growing up there's a lot of different organizations that players on my team kind of attach themselves to. I think it's the same thing when you look at a lot of the players in the basketball world , whether they're in middle school, at high school or the professional level, people get involved with the causes that are dear to their heart. ... There's such a diverse variety of players that you just see yourself giving back to the causes that mean the most to you."
In the same way, the diverse public service commitments that the nominees for the award have undertaken caught Catchings's eye. From volunteering with sick and underprivileged children to lobbying state legislatures for new laws that could help save lives, this exceptional group of young men and women demonstrate the positive impact student-athletes can have on and off the court. "It's a little bit of everything," said Catchings. "Quite a few of the players were doing a lot of their initiatives not only in the cities as far as where they were going to school, but going overseas and doing things, and just the culture. I think the real cool thing, too, is you find through most of the ones that I've read, [they're] getting their teammates involved. So they were the ones that started [or] got involved in something, then turning around and getting their teammates involved whether it's the same program or a different program. ..."
To cite just a handful of the many examples:
While in Ethiopia in the summer of 2012 on a week-long service trip spent helping distribute food and charcoal to victims of leprosy, painting a community center, visiting orphans and teaching them how to shoot a basketball, Kentucky senior Kastine Evans came up with the idea of creating her own non-profit, “Shooting at Success,” which provides children with an outlet that to create opportunities for strong character development, helps establish dynamic and powerful personalities, and inspires children to achieve academically, in any extracurricular activity, and in life."
“I came up with the idea of ‘Shooting at Success’ by realizing that basketball or sports in any way are a great tool to get through to young kids in my community,” Evans said. “It’s very fun, but at the same time you can teach them discipline, you can teach them hard work, you can teach them different things that they will learn in the classroom but also on the basketball court. It’s a great way to reach out to kids on a common level and just at the same time be able to be important figures in their lives because they are looking forward to something that’s coming up in the week and just being able to relay any message that you try to get through in a sport like basketball.”
In addition to her work with Shooting at Success, Evans is a frequent volunteer at Lexington’s Ronald McDonald House, where she cleans the house and does other chores as needed. She has volunteered to pack and deliver food for God’s Pantry BackPack program, volunteered to pack bags for the Joplin, Mo., tornado victims, participated in the NAACP Voter Registration Drive, getting all eligible voters on the UK Hoops team to register to vote for the 2012 election and volunteered with her sorority for Breast Cancer Week, helping bring awareness with programs and fundraisers for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Purdue senior Courtney Moses, whose former teammate Drey Mingo was one of last year's Good Works Team inaugural winners, helped found the IMPACT project through which student-athletes mentor and tutor local at-risk children, individually throughout a full semester or year, focusing on creating a relationship that can change a child’s life. She was also involved in starting and the Boiler-maker Wish group, which sets up an opportunity for a disabled or sick child in the community to spend time with a particular sport or athlete. A member Purdue's chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Boilermaker Athletic Council, Moses has also participated in international missionary trips to the Dominican Republic and South Africa over the past few years.
California senior Avigiel Cohen serves on the board of her university's Athlete Gay Straight Alliance, spends time as a tutor, and recently signed up to teach a class in the public health department as a part of the Student-Athlete Mentor Program (SAM). An Israeli citizen who in 2010 was the only woman to receive a waiver from the Israeli military allowing her to first finish her education in the United States, Cohen has been active in the Jewish community both in Berkeley and across the entire UC system. She is currently one of three students to serve on the 20-person board of the Berkeley Hillel and over the summer helped to establish both the Berkeley Club of Israel and a UC Alumni Group in Israel.She also helped to establish a Jewish Alumni Group uniting Jewish graduates of all 12 schools in the UC system. “Since the beginning I knew that I would be involved with the Jewish community at Cal,” Cohen said. “That was one of the main reasons I came to Berkeley. That’s why I’m a board member of the Hillel, and I like to make sure I stay involved in community service opportunities outside of basketball. Being in Berkeley you’re exposed to so much. It’s hard to not be involved.”
Georgia Tech's Shayla Bivens, a redshirt senior, is active in campus politics, serving as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board and as athletic representative to the Student Government Association Athletic. She spearheaded the inaugural Georgia Tech Donor Appreciation Week this year, organizing a "Thank-a-thon" where Yellow Jacket student-athletes made phone calls and wrote letters showing their appreciation to all of the supporters of Georgia Tech athletics.
Bivins has aided the Jackets in various community service initiatives including the Jacket-to-Jacket reading program, Girls on the Run and the Atlanta Two-Day Breast Cancer Walk. She was elected one of three captains of the 2013-14 Yellow Jackets.
Jess Harlee, a senior and three-time co-captain at West Virginia, spends her free time volunteering throughout Morgantown at the local hospital, grade schools and Stepping Stones, a non-profit recreational center for people with disabilities, alongside Kevin Noreen, who was nominated for the men's Good Works Team.
Kansas State senior Chantay Caron's nomination cites a veritable laundry list of community service activities, including participation in the Fort Riley No Dough Dinner, Fort Riley Free Youth Basketball Clinic, Cats in the Classroom, Cats for Cans, Special Olympics clinics, Docs vs. Jocks, Junior Wildcat Day and Adopt A Family during the holiday season. She also serves as the women’s basketball team’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative and was K-State’s representative at the Big 12 Leadership Summit in Dallas last summer and has juggled all this while maintaining a GPA high enough to qualify her for the 2013 Academic All-Big 12 First Team.
Alabama sophomore Nikki Hegstetter's special cause has been Habitat for Humanity, but she has also found time to take part in her team's 5th Grade Fastbreak program and the Summer Food & Fun program at the McDonald Hughes Center and volunteer at local high school basketball camps, elementary schools, the DCH Manderson Cancer Center and Capstone Village Retirement Community.
Jasmine Harris, also a sophomore, at University of Massachusetts was nominated in part for her work as the activities coordinator for Team IMPACT, a program supported by the entire Minutewomen team with the goal of improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses. Harris is also actively involved in the Massachusetts Special Olympics and helped lead the opening ceremony on campus, including the torch run alongside the participants. She and her UMass teammates also spent this summer volunteering the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club help lead physical activities for the participating children on a weekly basis.
With such a broad range of activities, all of which benefit the community, what makes the difference between the nominees and the 10 individuals who will ultimately be chosen for the 2014 Good Works Team? Catchings pointed out that there is no hard-and-fast set of criteria, and that she is just one member of the panel, each of whom will bring his or her own judgment to bear on the decision. But Catchings says for her, "the biggest thing that I look for is impact. Not necessarily hours -- they don't write down hour for hour what they're doing. But just the impact of what they're doing and the success that they've had."
Catchings also gives significant weight to a nominee's success in leveraging her own commitment by eliciting the participation of others. "How they get others involved -- that's important to me. You can do something by yourself, but even for me in having my own foundation, I do realize how more of an impact it has when we have a lot of people on board rather than just me doing it all by myself."
Beyond that, "I look at a little bit of everything," said Catchings. "What they're majoring in and just the success that they've had in school. I don't really look at what they've done on the court. That's not important for this aspect."
By all accounts, this year's crop of Good Works Team nominees presages a bright future for the tradition of service that so permeates the sport. And for Catchings, that is much more important than who wins or who loses this or any other award. "One of the things that we talked about last year with the group that won is whether you go on to play in the WNBA or you don't, the things that you're doing in the community will leave an impact and will leave a legacy. And I see the same thing right now. Eight-four right now -- only 10 of them will be named to the WBCA Allstate Good Works Team, so that's 74 players that won't make this team. But yet the impact that they have made in the community -- and those are just the ones that have been nominated. There's still a lot more young, female student-athletes out there that are doing great things!"
The following is the complete list of players nominated for consideration to be named to the 2014 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team:
NCAA Division I
College of The Holy Cross – Alex Smith
East Carolina University – Ariana Jackson
Florida Gulf Coast University – Sarah Hansen
Florida State University – Natasha Howard
Fordham University – Abigail Corning
Furman University – Brigid Morrissey
Georgia Institute of Technology – Shayla Bivins
Harvard University – Kaitlyn Dinkins
Iowa State University – Hallie Christofferson
Kansas State University – Chantay Caron
Louisiana State University – Theresa Plaisance
McNeese State University – NeTanya Jones
Middle Tennessee State University – Janiece Johnson
Montana State University-Bozeman – Jackie Elliott
Norfolk State University – Jazamine Gray
North Carolina A&T State University – Tracy King
Northwestern University – Meghan McKeown
Purdue University – Courtney Moses
Rice University – Nakachi Maduka
Seattle University – Kacie Sowell
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale – Jordyn Courier
Stanford University – Chiney Ogwumike
Stephen F. Austin State University – Daylyn Harris
Texas A&M University – Karla Gilbert
University of Akron – Rachel Tecca
University of Alabama – Nikki Hegstetter
University of California-Berkeley – Avigiel Cohen
University of Delaware – Kelsey Buchanan
University of Denver – Theresa Wirth
University of Hartford – Alyssa Englert
University of Hawaii – Kamilah Jackson
University of Illinois – Sarah Hartwell
University of Iowa – Kathryn Reynolds
University of Kentucky – Kastine Evans
University of Louisville – Jude Schimmel
University of Maine – Elizabeth Wood
University of Massachusetts – Jasmine Harris
University of Miami – Maria Brown
University of Missouri-Kansas City – Eilise O’Connor
University of New Hampshire – Kelsey Hogan
University of New Mexico – Sara Halasz
University of North Dakota – Allyssa Wall
University of South Carolina – Elem Ibiam
University of Southern California – Cassie Harberts
University of Southern Mississippi – Niesha Pierce
University of Tennessee at Martin – Heather Butler
University of Virginia – Lexie Gerson
University of Wisconsin – Morgan Paige
West Virginia University – Jessica Harlee
Western Kentucky University – Chaney Means
Winthrop University – Taylor Calvert
Youngstown State University – Heidi Schlegel
NCAA Divisions II, III and the NAIA
Central Washington University – Jessica VanDyke
Davenport University – Alison Bouman
Dillard University – Amber Tramel
Gannon University – Jen Papich
Geneva College – Heidi Mann
Georgia College & State University – Shanteona Keys
Hillsdale College – Megan Fogt
Illinois Wesleyan University – Alexa Baltes
Loyola University – Jasmine Brewer
Marymount University – Katelyn Fischer
Metropolitan State University of Denver – Amy Nelson
Minnesota State University-Mankato – Alexandra Wilkinson
Montana State University-Northern – Taylor Cummings
Moravian College – Laura Jordan
Nova Southeastern University – Jessica Valley
Ohio Dominican University – Christina Pentaudi
Oklahoma Wesleyan University – Courtney Backward
Quincy University – Lucy Cramsey
Roosevelt University – Rebecca Williford
Saint Cloud State University – Carley Jeffery
St. Mary’s University – Dezirae Elias
Trinity University (Texas) – Hannah Coley
Union College – Amy Loya
University of Alabama-Huntsville – Shannon Steinert
University of Mary Washington – Sam Partonen
University of St. Francis – Paige Stankus
Valley City State University – Brittany Lehner
Warner Pacific College – Jessica Thoens
Washington University in St. Louis – Lucy Montgomery
Westminster College (Mo.) – Leigh Ann Lutz
Wingate University – Jasmine DeBerry
Worcester State University – Michel’le St. Pierre