This is weird for me. We’ve lost quite a few icons this year, but the passing of Pat Summitt is one of the most personal of my adult life, outside of my family.
Growing up as a young girl who never missed a WNBA game, who was glued to the Tennessee Lady Vols, who loved the game of basketball more than girls were seemingly “supposed” to at the time, it got no bigger or more influential than Pat Summitt.
Coach Summitt and the Lady Vols were big before UConn became what it is today, but I can remember as UConn was beginning to turn the corner those dogged battles between Coach Summitt and Coach Geno Auriemma.
As my young basketball career was beginning on the AAU circuits I remember sharing stories with teammates and friends about playing in front of Coach Summitt or the Tennessee staff at various tournaments across the country. I’d never had the privilege, but was in awe of my friends. I remember a Tennessee questionnaire coming to my home in the mail and thinking “Wow maybe I’ve got a shot.” I’d read her book “Raise the Roof” and loved her as a coach and icon even more.
I remember a chapter where she discussed having Family nights with her team, with this particular roster she found that more of her players had come from single parent homes than two and had to change her approach. To this day I’m not quite sure why that has stuck with me, more than 15 years later. I suppose because to me it reflected a leader that was truly all about serving those she was leading. She was so in tune to her players and what they needed and understood that each group was so very different and treated them as such.
As I got closer to college, and made my decision to go to Georgetown, Summitt still remained an icon. Being a part of the old Big East meant we faced Geno Auriemma and his goon squad twice a year plus the conference tournament potentially, so that elicited little reaction, but when we faced Tennessee in a tournament in St. Thomas I was pumped.
We pulled off the upset. I remember checking Twitter after the game, Candace Parker had been tweeting and naturally rooting for her Vols. My teammates and I were pumped, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact I had a collegiate win over the great Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols. Needless to say when it came out later that year that she was battling early onset dementia I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d gotten the Vols best shot.
Pat Summitt was the ultimate competitor, the ultimate champion, an indelible pioneer. I selfishly didn’t want an asterisk next to our win. More importantly I wanted her to win her fight, to dismantle the adverse effects and crush the disease the way her teams clobbered opponent after opponent. I rooted for her, I backed Pat.
Here we are now, June 28, 2016, the great Pat Summitt has passed at the age of 64.
My first thought upon hearing the news this morning: What an incredible legacy. The tweets of support, memorable, moments, awesome stories, rushed through my timeline, and rightfully so. She wasn’t my coach, but she was The Coach. Paving the way for generations of young women and forcing people who may not have on their own merit to stop and pay attention to women’s basketball.
Thank you, Coach Pat Summitt, for all you’ve done and the legacy you’ve left behind.