Tennessee State University remembers history-making golf coach

Tennessee State University remembers history-making golf coach
Dr. Catana Starks, the first African-American woman to coach an all-men’s team at the collegiate level, passed away Sunday at the age of 75. (Source: Tennessee State University)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Tennessee State University alumna who was the first African-American woman to coach an all-men’s team at the collegiate level is being remembered as a trailblazer whose legacy will live on to those she inspired.

Dr. Catana Starks passed away Sunday at the age of 75.

Starks coached the TSU men’s golf team from 1986 until 2005 when she led the team to a National Minority Golf Championship. The Tigers shot a record-setting 840.

She earned her doctorate degree, began teaching, and eventually became the department head of Human Performance and Sports Sciences at TSU.

Under her leadership, the team produced Sean Foley, who went on to be a swing coach for Tiger Woods, Sam Puryear, the first African-American men’s head golf coach in any major conference, and Robert Dinwiddle, an all-American who went on to play on the European professional tour.

“She was a true advocate and believer in the term student-athlete,” Puryear said. “She helped make me a better student, athlete, and now coach. I am paying a lot of her messages and lessons forward.”

In 2011, her story inspired the movie “From the Rough” starring the late Michael Clarke Duncan and Taraji P. Henson, who depicts a fictionalized version of Starks named Cassandra Turner. The character has a successful time as coach of a women’s swim team at a historically black university into a shot at building a men’s golf team. With the availability of black players scarce, Turner seeks out talent in Europe, Australia and Asia and creates a uniquely multiracial team.

Michael Critelli, one of the producers, said what stood out most about Starks was her humbleness.

“She was a very humble woman, who was very reluctant to talk about her many accomplishments,” Critelli said. “One of the of the biggest challenges I had constructing her life story for the film was that she would not brag about what she had done. I would have to find out about her achievements from other people.”

And it is through others, that Starks will live on, he added.

“Our hearts are saddened by the passing of Dr. Catana Starks,” TSU President Glenda Glover said. “She was a trailblazer, a true champion, whose legacy will continue in all those she inspired, on and off the golf course. Dr. Starks epitomized the excellence that TSU strives to instill in all its students. The thoughts and prayers of the entire TSU family are with her family and loved ones.”

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