Area colleges: Movie to shine light on groundbreaking efforts of TSU coach

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 8:51pm

Dr. Catana Starks never expected a movie.

But she knew what she was doing was groundbreaking.

In 1986, Starks became the first African-American female head coach of a men’s golf team when she took over the reins of Tennessee State’s program, which was new.

Starks wasn’t new to coaching. She spent the previous two years leading the men’s swimming and diving team, which then-athletic director Bill Thomas traded in to start the golf team as the school jumped into the Ohio Valley Conference.

Shortly after beginning her new gig, Starks realized she was walking into uncharted territory.

“It did take a while to grow,” Starks, a TSU graduate, said. “Trying to get quality golfers was a problem. Being female, I guess, had something to do with that. I always thought that I had recruited somebody and would get them. Then lo and behold they were gobbled up by someone else. So I didn’t get the chance sometimes to get the top athletes. But I kept trying until I got people who could play better and better each time.”

Her perseverance and work as a pioneer has caught the attention of Hollywood and her story will be turned into a movie this fall. One of Starks’ former players was talking about Starks to a friend, Michael Critelli, who happened to be a movie producer.

From there Critelli hit the ground running and ‘From the Rough’ will hit theatres in the fall. Oscar nominee Taraji Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) will play a fictionalized version of Starks — Cassandra Turner.  The movie also features stars Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) and Tom Felton (the Harry Potter series).

The movie was filmed in New Orleans and Starks visited with the actors on location last fall.

“I had no clue about that [becoming a movie] but I think it is a blessing,” Starks said. “Hopefully it will send a message that women can coach men’s sports. They shouldn’t shy away from it. They should really attack it and be a part of the evolution of what women can do in the coaching ranks. Sometimes I think it is difficult for women to get their foot in the door. A lot of the programs are dying and I think we can venture out just like the men venture out in the coaching world.”

Starks, who was born in Philadelphia but raised in Mobile, Ala., still works at TSU. She is currently the head of the school’s Human Performance and Sports Sciences department.

She coached the golf team until 2005, leading the Tigers to a national minority championship, along with the program’s first trip to an NCAA Regional in 2005. That same year, Robert Dinwiddie was named an All-American — another first for the program. He currently plays on the European Tour.

Along with Dinwiddie, Starks’ program produced Sam Puryear, who is in his fourth year as men’s golf coach at Michigan State and was that school’s first African-American head coach. Another TSU product, Sean Foley, has been Tiger Woods’ swing coach since last August.

The program took leaps and bounds from when Starks started, with a roster that included injured football players and a female golfer. 

“I think that we really worked hard to get it where it was — being competitive and that is where I wanted it to be,” Starks said. “Strength of schedule still applies to golf as well as any other sport. ... The ability to reach those things helped to improve the kinds of tournaments we were invited to. By winning tournaments, we got invitations to other places so that was really wonderful.”

• Moving out: Vanderbilt freshman Tori Jarosz will transfer after one season, which makes her the second player in a week to leave the women’s basketball program.

Last Friday, a Vanderbilt official confirmed that Jarosz, a 6-foot-3 forward from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., would transfer but said she is undecided on a new school. She played just 15 minutes this past season, scoring one point, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking four shots in six games.

Just two days before, junior guard Angela Puleo announced she would not return for her fifth year of eligibility.

“Following my graduation from Vanderbilt in December, I have decided to pursue a graduate degree,” Puleo said in a statement. “I wish the Vanderbilt team success in the future.”

Puleo spent just one season with the Commodores, sitting out the 2009-10 season after playing two seasons at Georgia. Puleo, a 5-9 guard from Maryville, started in 12 games for Vanderbilt, scoring a season-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range on Jan. 30 against Ole Miss. She averaged 5.0 points a game.

In February, 6-7 freshman center Kayci Ferriss withdrew from the university due to personal reasons.  The Smith County product and former Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year did not play during the 2010-11 campaign due to an injury.

• Assistant shuffle: The Middle Tennessee State men’s basketball program hired assistant coach Monte Towe last week.

Towe comes to MTSU after five years as the associate head coach of North Carolina State. He brings 14 years of coaching experience with him and was the starting point guard on N.C. State’s 1974 national championship team.

His move to MTSU comes after Sidney Lowe resigned as head coach of N.C. State. He was replaced by Mark Gottfried, who announced the hiring of former MTSU assistant Rob Moxley last Friday. Moxley left MTSU after just one season with head coach Kermit Davis, who will begin his 10th season with the Blue Raiders.

Also last week, MTSU assistant Al Pinkins was hired for the same position by Ole Miss after spending the last eight seasons with Davis and the Blue Raiders.

• Spring ranking: The Cumberland football team is ranked 19th by the NAIA Football Coaches’ Spring Top 25 poll, which was released on Monday.

The Bulldogs are coming off an 8-3 season in which they ended ranked 23rd. It was just the third eight-win season for Cumberland since the program was revived in 1990.

The Bulldogs will have to replace 17 seniors but return seven starters on offense and defense and both specialists.

Cumberland wrapped up its four-week spring practice schedule last week.

“We were not able to get all of the work we would have liked on the field because of the weather, but we have a lot of continuity within our staff and a good deal of older players, so we were able to accomplish a great deal without always being outside,” Cumberland’s sixth-year head coach Dewayne Alexander said. “We stayed healthy, which is always a positive, and really got a chance to take a look at some younger players, guys who redshirted last season or were injured, and feel good about our team coming out of the spring.”

Weekly conference honors: A handful of area colleges were represented this week when several leagues handed out their weekly honors.

Middle Tennessee State sophomore Hunter Adkins was named the Sun Belt Conference’s pitcher of the week. Adkins, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from Signal Mountain, Tenn., picked up his first win of the season on Saturday against No. 18 Troy. He pitched eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out five. Adkins (1-6) helped the Blue Raiders take two out of three against Troy, marking the first time MTSU has beaten a ranked opponent since defeating No. 1 Vanderbilt in 2007.

Trevecca Nazarene junior PJ Francescon was tabbed as the TranSouth Athletic Conference’s pitcher of the week. The Ravenwood product and transfer from MTSU pitched a complete game, seven-inning shutout in the Trojans’ 10-0 win against Lyon College on Saturday. Francescon (5-1) allowed just three hits and struck out 10. In league games this season, the 6-1 right-hander is 5-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched.

The Atlantic Sun Conference selected Belmont junior Ashley Byers as its softball player of the week. Byers collected seven hits and seven RBIs during four conference road games last weekend at Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. Against Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday, she knocked out two home runs to propel the Bruins to a 10-5 victory.

It was Belmont’s first win over FGCU and the first time in school history the Bruins have beaten the top team in the conference.

Byers, a native of Westerville, Ohio, leads the team with a .283 batting average, 32 hits, nine home runs, 28 RBIs and 13 runs scored. She set the single-season school record for home runs last year with 10.