Pat Summitt has always been focused and steadfast. In 2007, with Don Imus’ comments on Rutgers generating their own gravity within the world of women’s college basketball, Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers fashioned the proverbial blinders and left the national media circus in the dust on the way to a seventh national championship.
News that Summitt had early-onset dementia hit hard last summer and news of her retirement earlier today was no shock, but it still had the stopping power of a .357 to a nation of adoring fans. Common sentiment has been that Pat Summitt was a great women’s basketball coach, her accomplishments warranting professional eulogies from people whose lives she has somehow influenced.
In reality, there weren’t any modifiers necessary. Pat Summitt is simply a great coach, and, more importantly, a great human being.
Obviously, it’s difficult to separate Pat Summitt from women’s athletics because before Pat Summitt, there really weren’t women’s athletics — at least, not in the form that we’ve come to know them today.
She came to Knoxville in 1974, a time when gender equity in sports was a punchline. Exactly 1,098 wins later, the snickering of the obstinate has been partially silenced.
Women’s sports have come a long way, in part, because of Pat Summitt’s efforts, but they still occupy a niche role within the larger sports community. However, Pat’s growth as a person and a coach refused to plateau. Instead, she pushed onward and when she reached the peak of her profession, she continued to climb.
Eventually she outpaced the game and women’s athletics, but in typically selfless fashion, she marked her trail clearly for her predecessors too. It’s up to the collective to follow it now. Pat Summitt has moved on to the next challenge.
Unfortunately, not even the piercing stare of Pat Summitt is likely to make her next challenge — Alzheimer’s — flinch. Yet, Pat will continue to press on. And for the second time in her life, Pat Summitt will push harder and farther than anyone thought possible, being sure to clear a path for anyone willing to follow — willing to fight.
Because Pat Summitt is a woman, it seems rather innocuous to say that she is simply a great woman’s basketball coach, but the reality is that in the last 38 years, she has proven that she is MUCH more than that.
She is a mother, a respected colleague, and a fierce competitor. She was a pioneer in her profession, and unlike most pioneers, she had the longevity to enjoy the fruits of her own success. Sure, she was a great basketball coach, that goes without saying, but Pat Summitt’s true value can’t be measured with points or wins or championships.
Pat Summit was simply great.
Ryan Wooden went to the University of Tennessee. Now, he covers golf and SEC football for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ryan_wooden and like him on facebook at Ryan Wooden- Rant Sports.