Alumnus honored by the Smithsonian for defending his religion on the basketball court
by Donna Parker
When Darsh Singh’s father, G.P. Singh, emigrated from India in the 1970s, he had three dollars in his pocket. He never imagined that 40 years later one of his four sons would be honored by the Smithsonian Institute for being the first turbaned Sikh American to play NCAA basketball. Today Darsh Singh’s number 32 Trinity Tigers jersey hangs in the Beyond Bollywood exhibit in the Asian Pacific American Center.
Singh faced regular discrimination in the Southern conference for wearing his turban during basketball games. Opposing team coaches, fans, and players harassed him. Singh’s teammates, on the other hand, respected him. By his senior year, Darsh was co-captain of the Trinity basketball team amidst the strong support of his teammates.
“There was so much love on the Trinity campus. I literally felt it everywhere I went. The team especially embraced me and helped me. I was surrounded by loving folks who empowered me to achieve my full potential.”
Even so, when the Smithsonian came calling, it was understandably a surreal experience.
“It’s funny; I really didn’t understand it at first. When I look at my parents’ and Sikh contributions before me, they seem so much greater than me playing ball,” he says as he reflects on the national recognition.
Darsh says it was difficult to put the honor into perspective. “It didn’t click until I saw friends in the Sikh community taking their kids to D.C. to see my jersey and realized that my success might encourage them to realize their dream, while maintaining their faith.”
Faith and family are paramount to this engineering science graduate. He left a post with the National Security Agency because after work he couldn’t talk about what he was doing on the job with his wife, his parents, or his siblings.
“I worked in U.S. intelligence as an R&D signals engineer and learned all about risk management. Although my work for the NSA was technically challenging, it was not fulfilling. I am first and foremost family oriented.”
So, after his intelligence position in Baltimore, Darsh returned to his Texas roots and settled in Fort Worth as the portfolio manager for Satori Alpha, an alternatives investment firm rooted in the principles of conscious capitalism. He says the lessons he learned while on the Trinity basketball team continue to come in handy.
“Coach Cunningham (Trinity men’s basketball) was an important mentor and taught us the importance of effective communication and how to work with others. It sounds simple enough, but I’m able to take his philosophy of how to create a high-performing team and put it into action on the job,” says Darsh. He says Cunningham taught him when to pick someone up and when to challenge him or her.
“I also learned a lot about how to approach and solve problems from all of my engineering professors. I feel like that course of study taught me how to think more than any specific skill. I also had the privilege of serving as a resident mentor. I was fortunate to connect with my peers and some of Trinity’s leadership, which was a special experience for me.”
In 2011, Darsh married Lakhpreet Kaur, and together the couple has continued to develop their deep roots in the Sikh community. Kaur recently launched an online magazine focusing on Sikh women’s religion, identity, gender and race issues.
The couple also embraces their passion for exploring new places and cultures. “My wife and I love to travel wherever Southwest Airlines flies!”
Darsh remains close to his father, G.P. Singh and his mother, Winkey Kaur, whom he says is his biggest fan.
“She’s the biggest Spurs fan I know! She loves basketball and actually played high school basketball in her village in India back in the 1970s.”
Bottom line, Darsh says, there are countless ways he has benefitted from basketball. “My Trinity Tiger teammates and I remain extremely close and still get together at alumni games. We’re all really good friends. We all knew how to play our roles. It was not a superstar egocentric team. We understood what it takes to be a true team by working together to create positive outcomes.”
You may contact Darsh by email at darsh [at] satoricapital.com or on Twitter at @darshpreetsingh.