GLEN ROSE – There is an old adage that claims everyone dies, but legends live on forever. It’s an unfortunate truth for those not quite lucky enough to reach a status of legendary forever-ness.
Flashback with television remote in hand to nearly any Saturday afternoon between September and March during the late 1980’s, 90’s or early double-aught’s. During this pre-on-demand period there were usually few options available for your viewing pleasure, but college basketball always seemed to be an afternoon staple on network TV.
“Hoops! Nice! Who’s playing?”
“Ahhh, it’s the Lady Volunteers and whoever.”
“Well that’s going to be a blowout.”
And it was more often than not. For 38 seasons Pat Summitt was as much a part of college basketball – not just women’s basketball – as the rim, netting and baseline.
“She was a legend,” first-year Glen Rose girl’s basketball head coach Ramsey Ghazal said. “Summitt broke down many barriers for female coaches and put women’s basketball in the spotlight.”
While under the spotlight of national media, fans and recruits, Summitt never wilted. During her career at the University of Tennessee, the oft-fiery head coach led her Lady Volunteers to eight NCAA national titles, 1,098 wins and 208 losses.
Numbers such as these are what immediately jumped to the forefront of conversations on the morning of Tuesday, June 28 when the 64-year-old coach, mentor and role model for many passed approximately five years after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
“This is a sad day for all of us,” said Sheree Hill, the newly retired and former Glen Rose girl’s basketball head coach. “I am not sure I can find the right words to adequately describe what Coach Summitt has meant to women’s basketball and to the coaching profession. She was tough, tenacious, extremely competitive, and so well respected by the young ladies who played for her as well as her peers.
“Coach Summitt had an unbelievable record of success while never compromising her standards, which can be difficult at times. She was one of a kind.”
But it was not just winning over 84 percent of her games that defined the icon. Nor was it only about the path she began to pave in 1974 at the age of 22 for women in sports – just two years post the passage of Title IX. It is also quite feasible that, although jaw-droppingly impressive, her crowning achievements will not be the 2000 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame or the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to her in 2012 by Barrack Obama.
I challenge you to try and find a negative story about Pat Summitt. No one is perfect, and that comparison is not being made, but the number of positive interactions with the seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year that the negatives, if there are any, are buried deep, deep into the darkest depths.
“What a wonderful legacy she left behind, and I’m not referring to the number of wins either,” Hill said.
“I had the privilege to have an athlete attend her Elite Camp one year and my daughter attended her camp as well,” Hill continued. “As big of a legend as she was and as busy as she was, Coach Summitt still made camp everyday and worked with the athletes one-on-one. That spoke volumes to me. She was always classy and humble, and a very down to earth and honest lady.”
It’s been a tough stretch for sports fanatics with the recent deaths of hockey legend Gordie Howe and all-time boxing great Cassius Marcellus Clay.
But for those born closer to the first registered .com or release of Windows, those two are our grandparents’ legends. Summit was one of ours. Rest easy, coach.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith