Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pat Head Summitt - A Heroine

Growing up, I was a tomboy and played intramural sports, the only kind available to girls at that time. I always thought it unfair that girls didn't have the same opportunities that boys had in sports.I was very involved in the 1972 passage of Title IX, the legislation outlawing sexual discrimination in education - but most famous for its impact on women's sports. Shortly thereafter, a phenomena arrived at the University of Tennessee.

Pat Head Summitt was born on a farm in Tennessee and was an outstanding basketball player, whose parents actually moved to another town so she could go to a school that offered girls basketball. She went on to become an All American at the University of Tennessee - Martin, but her big goal was to play in the Olympics - if and when women's basketball became an Olympic sport.

When Pat graduated, she was thrilled to be offered a graduate assistantship as assistant coach of the women's basketball team. She owes that opportunity to a female physical education teacher who was impressed with her. Imagine her shock and surprise when she showed up for her first day on the job and was told the coach had quit - and she was now the head coach! She was 22 and barely older than her players.

During her first two years there, she completed her Masters Degree and prepared for the 1976 Olympics, the first time women's basketball was an Olympic sport. She not only made the team, but she was a team captain and they won the silver medal.

In spite of other pressures, she coached her players to two winning seasons. However, that was the last time one of her teams would win less than 20 games - and the last time they would not go to NCCA Playoffs. How many male coaches can make that claim? None. She's been my heroine ever since I saw her in the Olympics - and I've followed her career ever since.

Thursday, she reached a benchmark that has never been reached before by any collegiate basketball coach - male or female. In fact, no one is even close. She just won her 1000th game! And she's knocked off almost every other record set by her male colleagues.

The only record she hasn't broken is one by the legendary John Wooden (UCLA) who won ten national championships. She has eight, and she's only 56, so she'll get that record as well. She already passed Kentucky's coach Adolph Rupp. With 18 Final Four appearances, she easily passed Wooden's record of a mere 12.

Her Lady Vols have won more NCAA victories (104) than any other team. Wooden, Rupp, Bobby Knight? Not even close! She was the first women's coach with a perfect season (1997-98). Her Lady Vols were the first women's team to win back to back to back national championships.

Last year, she was the first woman to receive the John Wooten Legends of the Game Award. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame the first year she was eligible. Needless to say, she's also in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. ESPN named the Lady Vols the team of the decade (1990s) tied with the Florida State Seminoles Football Team - take that FSU! In 2000, she was named Naismith Coach of the Century - and one of her players was named Naismith Player of the Century. She's earned a myriad other awards and honors.

She was the first female coach to earn more than a million dollars a year. But shortly after she signed that contract, she gave $600,000 back to the University's women's basketball program and endowing a scholarship.

In 1980, she married, and in 1990, she gave birth to her only child, Tyler. She went into labor while on a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania. She finished her business, then told the pilots of her plane to hurry because she wanted her son born in Tennessee. She took Tyler to work with her, and the team loved him. She was honored at a White House luncheon given by then First Lady Hillary Clinton for The 25 Most Influential Working Mothers, as selected by Working Mothers Magazine.

So in March, when everyone else is obsessed with the men's NCAA tournament, I hope you join me in watching Pat Head Summitt take another team to the women's tournament. She and the Lady Vols are a lot more awesome than whoever wins the men's tournament.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Great post -- and I'd never even heard of her. Nice to read edifying stories like that.

Now I'd like to read some other interesting stories on this blog and look forward to all the other writers contributing posts and getting to know them.