By Sonia Billadeau
The sports world is mourning for the loss of Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. An innovator of women's college basketball, Summit died on June 28, 2016 at the age of 64.
“Summitt led the [Tennessee Lady Volunteers] to 1,098 victories – the most in Division I college basketball history (men or women) – before stepping down in 2012, one year after announcing she had early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type,” according to ESPN News.
Holly Warlick, current coach of the Lady Volunteers’ team and longtime friend, said Summit battled Alzheimer’s with identical strength as she did as coach. Even as one of the sports’ most accomplished individuals, Warlick said she was also ‘universally beloved and humbly warm’.
To pursue her love for basketball, Summitt’s family traveled across the country to find a high school that had a girls’ basketball team. After, Summitt attended school at the University of Tennessee where she assisted her team to two national championship tournaments. She graduated as the leading scorer of 1,045 points.
In her junior in college, Summitt won the silver medal with the U.S team for both the World University Games and Pan Am Games in 1975. By her senior year, she was co-captain of the U.S team at the 1976 Olympic Games, receiving another silver medal for the U.S. The team finished second to the Soviet Union as women's basketball made its first entry as an official Olympic sport, according to ESPN News.
When Summitt became head captain at the age of 23, the Lady Vols lost their first game. But she did not give up there. Summitt coached the U.S. national team to gold at the 1984 Olympic Games. In 1991 and from 1996 to '98, the Volunteers became the first women's basketball team to win three national championships in a row.
According to ESPN News, Summitt was initiated into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. In 2012, Summitt was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
"Pat was a patriot who earned Olympic medals for America as a player and a coach, and I was honored to award her the Presidential Medal of Freedom," a statement from President Barack Obama. “And she was an inspiring fighter. Even after Alzheimer's started to soften her memory, and she began a public and brave fight against that terrible disease, Pat had the grace and perspective to remind us that God doesn't take things away to be cruel, He takes things away to lighten us. He takes things away so we can fly.”
In Summit’s four decades of coaching, she was named NCAA coach of the year seven times and have changed many lives. Bob Knight, a former basketball coach, said Summitt prepared her players for life after basketball; every player under Summitt earned a degree.
Tamika Catchings, who won two national titles with Tennessee, commented on Summitt’s strength in 2013.
"When you look at all of us and all the things we've been able to accomplish not only on the basketball court, but even off the court, we've got coaches, we've got entrepreneurs, we've got mothers, a little bit of everything," Catchings said. "We learned [from Summitt] what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to be a great woman, what it takes to be a great lady, what it takes to have character, what it takes to have poise, how not to buckle under adversity."
Geno Auriemma, a former basketball coach, said on Tuesday, "From a personal standpoint, you can see how difficult it was for a woman to do something no woman had done before and try to juggle being a mom, coach and a representative of the game. She was the first. There were other people that did it, but nobody did it better or did it longer.”
The University of Tennessee created Pat Summitt Plaza in 2013 to honor Summitt for her many achievements. After retirement, Summitt was again honored by the university with a bronze statue on Pat Summitt Plaza. Previous teammates and associates said Summitt's fight against early onset dementia through her organization – the Pat Summitt Foundation – exceeded even her successes as a coach.
"Whoever writes the history of women's basketball, her name and influence will be all over that book from the mid-'70s until they don't play basketball anymore,” Auriemma said. “She was the defining figure of the game. Lots of people coach the game, but very few get to define the game."
Pat Summitt By The Numbers
2: Medals won in Olympics
7: NCAA Coach of the Year awards
8: National championships
12: Olympians coached at Tennessee
18: Final Four appearances
21: Number of All-Americans coached
31: NCAA tournament appearances
38: Seasons coaching the Lady Vols
112: NCAA tournament wins
.841: Career winning percentage
1,098: Career victories