Only a fraction of the athletes who compete in high school sports get the chance to move to the college level. The number of athletes who move on to the professional ranks is even smaller.
By all appearances, TaRhonda White was one the lucky ones. The former Belaire High standout played basketball for one season and volleyball for two seasons at Southern University.
Before her junior year, White decided to forego her final two years of eligibility in order to concentrate on her engineering major. Soon after, her problems began.
“I was in Montana doing an internship, and I knew something with me wasn’t right,” White said. “A lot of the time I was really sad. And sometimes I was angry.
“I found out later I was grieving … grieving the loss of athletics in my life. There was a time when I couldn’t even look at a basketball or go watch a game.”
The 26-year-old White grew up in and around gymnasiums. Her mother, Michelle, is a career coach who is currently coaching volleyball at Glen Oaks.
Her brother, Brandon, played basketball at GOHS and Southern and is now an assistant coach for the Jaguars. Younger sister Shelbi played at University and is set to play volleyball at Dillard University of New Orleans in the fall.
The loss White experienced when her competitive career ended is something many people suffer through in silence. After seeking counseling and working through her own issues, White decided to share her journey with others.
White’s book, “The Will to Carry On” hit bookstores in April. It includes forwards written by two ex-LSU players in the NBA who were her contemporaries, Tyrus Thomas (McKinley) and Glen “Big Baby” Davis (University).
“It’s important for me to share this with other people,” White said. “I want the athletes out there to understand that what they experience is a loss … a big one.
“There really is more to life. There are careers and other goals to reach for. It’s something that the athletes, coaches and their parents need to understand and prepare for.”
White lives near Virginia Beach and works as a nuclear engineer. She is considering a graduate degree in business.
Her book has generated book signings and speaking engagements. A signing is set locally in October at the Barnes & Noble Citiplace. She is also scheduled to speak to Belaire’s athletes in the months ahead.
Despite her struggles, White still considers herself to be one of the lucky ones.
“It’s so tough because you grow up spending so much time with athletics,” White said. “I was involved for years, and it was a way a life. You work so hard at it.
“There’s definitely nothing wrong with having dreams and goals, whether it’s to play in college or in the pros. Who knows, you might be one of the lucky ones who makes it. But you have to be prepared for when it all ends. You have to have plan for life after sports. Athletes, coaches and parents really need to understand that.”
White knows the stories of athletes who were not as fortunate as she is. And she worries about the future.
“You have athletes who don’t do well enough in school to get into college,” White said. “Some of them don’t have the skills they need to hold down a job, let alone to start a career. You hear so many stories about former athletes who get in trouble or turn to drugs. The life they knew ended and they can’t adjust.
“What service are some coaches providing if they’re not preparing their athletes to succeed in life along with athletics? Parents who are trying to live through their children are not doing themselves or their children any favors.”
White concedes there are no easy answers. Her goal is to break the silence and to help others find their own solutions.