Profile: Legacy of Champions

Profile: Legacy of Champions

Women’s college basketball coach equips
players with speaking skills – a real assist!

By Julie Bawden Davis

Photo Caption: Shaw University basketball player Jan'el Baxter in action.

When college basketball player Tavia Clemendor’s coach, Jacques Curtis, told her she was expected to attend three Toastmasters meetings as part of her training, Clemendor wasn’t happy. She didn’t want to waste her only day off.

“At first I was resentful giving up my Sunday evenings,” admits Clemendor, a senior at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. “After a couple of meetings, though, it actually got exciting. I soon noticed that I had become less shy and a lot more confident. Before I knew it, I was giving speeches that really mattered, like one of my favorites where I talked about goals and ambitions and how you should never let anyone deter you from your dreams.”

Clemendor progressed at such a rapid rate that she soon found herself president of the college Toastmasters club, Legacy of Champions (LOC).

“When I became president of the club, I had no idea what I was doing, but I picked things up as I went along,” says Clemendor, who is planning on attending medical school once she graduates. “The club has been a great experience for me and the other girls [on the basketball team]. In the beginning, there was a lot of giggling going on, but that eventually faded and members now take a lot of pride in the meetings and their speeches.”

Coach Curtis, as he is called by the Shaw University women’s basketball team, decided he wanted his players involved with Toastmasters soon after he joined the Cardinal Club Toastmasters in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July 2006.

“I realized that a public speaking class in college couldn’t come anywhere near challenging the girls like Toastmasters can,” says Curtis. “Table Topics and other benefits of the organization offer them invaluable learning experiences that enable them to stand up and speak comfortably.”

Curtis had good reason to be concerned about his players’ public speaking skills. From 2003 to 2006, his Lady Bears team made history, winning four CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) championships in a row and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) South Atlantic Region championship in 2005 and 2006.

“It’s important that the girls are professionally trained to speak in front of the camera and not be embarrassed,” says Curtis. “I didn’t want viewers to say they can play, but they can’t talk, which often happens even with professional athletes. I have seen too many news interviews after sports events that do not reflect well on the players, and I wanted to prepare my team to respond well during that process.”

While Curtis originally joined Toastmasters to broaden his contacts outside of the coaching community, he quickly discovered that Toastmasters would benefit the girls on his team, says Lee Tyler, a member of Cardinal Club Toastmasters, who sponsored and mentored the LOC club, which chartered last October. 

                    “I didn’t want viewers to say, ‘they can play, but they can’t talk,’
                    which often happens even with professional athletes.”

“Coach Curtis not only wants to create athletes who can express themselves, he also strives to build an enduring legacy for these student athletes because he knows that not all women on the team will go on to play basketball at the professional level,” says Tyler. “Besides focusing on athletic skills, he also requires that the players maintain high standards in academics and personal development, which is unusual. Many coaches are only interested in the win-loss record and don’t really care about the students’ futures.

The LOC club was named for Curtis’ Legacy of Champions Foundation, which is a non-profit organization designed to empower females by providing structured programs focused on athletic, educational, health and social development.

Curtis has always required his players to perform community service and decided to create a vehicle for such projects by starting the LOC foundation in May 2006. The foundation offers youth outreach programs, such as Big Sister and Read to Achieve, and in 2006 it inducted several influential women into its Hall of Fame. These experiences involved an awards banquet and a chance for the basketball players to meet successful women role models.

“Coach Curtis’s goal is to help women develop skills and resources that will enable them to open doors in the business arena that are traditionally closed to women,” says Cardinal Club Toastmasters member Becky Sansbury, who also mentored and sponsored the LOC club. “He wants to make the girls well-rounded and equipped to deal with whatever comes their way. When I suggested that he get the team involved in Toastmasters, he immediately agreed.”

Tyler, Sansbury and her husband, Ed, helped Curtis start a club for the basketball team. “The only time available in their busy schedule was on Sunday evenings,” says Sansbury. “Coach Curtis required his core players to attend the first three meetings. It was a lot like parents getting their children to taste a new vegetable that they end up liking,” says Sansbury. “They were hesitant at first, but by the second meeting they were taking on roles, and by the third meeting they had their first Ice Breaker.”

While serving as a mentor for the new club, Sansbury was constantly amazed at the improvements they made.

“I saw a general rise in stature in these young women. Originally some of them shuffled to the front of the room or stared at their feet, but that all soon stopped,” she says. “They became articulate and poised. What these young women demonstrated by their purpose, tenacity and youthful vision was absolutely astounding.”

Thanks to Curtis’ dedication to giving the girls every opportunity for growth, members often make professional connections and give speeches outside of the club. Three members, including Clemendor, spoke to high school students at a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) conference.

“I was really proud of the girls who spoke at the FBLA conference,” says Assistant Coach Latasha Shipman, who became a Toastmaster when the team members did. “They gave impressive speeches about their opinions on student athletics that held the attention of the teen audience.”

Jasmine Rivera is a senior and member of the LOC club. Like many other students, she was reluctant to attend Toastmasters at first, but she soon realized the value of membership. “Toastmasters just seemed like more schoolwork until I went to a couple of meetings and realized what a good experience it could be,” says Rivera, who is majoring in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. “Toastmasters is great training for the real world. My speaking skills have improved a great deal and the networking opportunities really help.”

Of course, their Toastmasters skills have helped their basketball team, as well. “Even though we see a lot of each other on the court and in school, we never have a chance to really talk,” says Rivera. “The speeches, in particular, really change your perspective about a person in a good way and help you get to know each other a lot better.” 

Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer based in Southern California and a longtime contributor. Reach her at

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