Celebrating Women – Pat Summitt, a basketball icon

Matt Kilmer , Staff Reporter

With Women’s History Month upon us, it is without question that we acknowledge the late great Pat Summitt, who lived a life of hardships and challenges but met them at every turn to become one of the most influential women in the history of sports, both on and off the court of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

Pat Summitt was born the fourth of five children on June 14, 1952.  From an early age, she was taught to work hard for her goals and gave everything she had into every walk of life.  She was also introduced to basketball.  

With three older brothers, she had to give a similar type of effort she had given anywhere else if she wished to keep up.  Her passion for the game would forever be with her as she continued to grow up, and worked tirelessly to achieve whatever she felt possible.  She quickly became an elite basketball talent, winning All-American Honors at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  In 1976, she co-captained the United State’s Women’s basketball team for their first Olympic games, earning a silver medal.  However, this was little compared to what she would be for college basketball and women’s sports as a whole.  

She abruptly became the head coach of the UT Lady Volunteers after her successor quit.  Her first seven years showed flashes of brilliance from the young coach.  She never finished with a record below .500, and finished 2nd in the AIAW tournament twice in her first seven years.  

The NCAA finally represented the women’s national tournament  just before the 1981-82, which is where Summitt’s legacy would truly be cemented in history.  She won 8 national championships in the midst of their 27 year streak attending the NCAA Tournament, and they did not fall prior to the Sweet 16 until the 2008-09 season.  Her career record as the Lady Vols head coach was an astounding 1,098-208, giving her win percentage better than eighty percent.  

Before her career ended in 2012, she would coach the USA to a gold medal in 1984, be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, be named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century in 2002, and was awarded the the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.  In addition, her fierce competitive nature and sheer will to win earned her a look known as the “Summit Stare”.  This was THE look, and her players knew they’d have to ramp up the effort and give it everything they had.

Surely she would have continued her greatness as a role model to women all around the world and coach at UT, but, in 2011, she was sadly diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Despite this, she finished out her last year on the hardwood, ending the season with a record of 27-9, and her Lady Volunteers falling in the Elite 8.  Following the diagnoses, Summit would create a foundation in order to raise awareness and money for Alzheimer’s research.  

On June 28, 2016, exactly two weeks after her 64th birthday, Pat Summitt passed away due to her complications with Alzheimer’s disease.  In her memory, the University of Tennessee Medical Center opened the Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic.  

Even with her gone, her hard work and dedication has reminded people everyday that they have to keep pushing forward if they want to achieve greatness.  She was a role model and mother figure to a countless number of young women who we accepted into Summitt’s basketball program with open arms.  She left with them all the values that she had always instilled in herself and others.

The perfect way to describe her came from the words of former Lady Vol, Nikki McCray-Penson.

“She just meant so much to us. More than just the 1,098 wins. There was more to Pat Summitt than that — how she impacted our lives daily. I just can’t even put into words what she means to our community and obviously the Lady Vol family, but (also) to America. The outpouring of love that we’re receiving from all across the country, you just can’t match it.”

Pat Summitt will forever be a legend and leader to both men and women around the world, and her impact on sports is cemented in history.