Thursday, August 13, 2020
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Obituary: Coach Pat Summitt

For 38 years, Pat Summitt led the Lady Vols of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to several NCAA championships and won acclaim from sports fans and pundits of every stripe. She died peacefully on June 28, at the age of 64, following a courageous battle with early-onset dementia, the New York Times reports.

Pat Summitt Foundation
Pat Summitt, women’s basketball coach, University of Tennessee (1974–2012)

Pat was born on June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tennessee, and raised on a farm. She graduated from Cheatham County High School in Ashland City and went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Tennessee, Martin. She led the team to two national titles, and right after she graduated—at the age of 22—she was named the head coach at Tennessee, where she would remain and, from there, catapult the sport of women’s basketball to heights no one could have imagined in 1974.

She retired after the 2012 season, just three years after a disappointing Round 1 loss to Ball State in the NCAA tournament. As with many great athletes, she lost her last game, 77-58, to Baylor in the 2012 tournament, but before then, she had amassed more victories than any other Division 1 coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA. She passed that record on March 22, 2005, and nobody has even come close ever since.

Although someone may, one day, win more games than Summitt did, what she did for women in sport, beginning shortly after Title IX was enacted and around the time the Illinois High School Association began offering state titles in women’s sports (1972-73), does not lend itself to comparison.

Her foundation, the Pat Summitt Foundation, is dedicated to early-onset dementia (Alzheimer’s), and her memoir, written with Sally Jenkins, is entitled Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. Her words:

I remember a Tennessee field with hay as far as I could see and a tall man standing in it, staring at me with pale blue eyes. Eyes that you wanted to look away from. Daunting eyes. My father had eyes that gave me the feeling he could order up any kind of weather he wanted, just by looking at the sky. If the tobacco crop needed rain, he’d glare upward, until I swore it got cloudy. I gestured at the hay field and said, “Daddy, how long do I have to stay out here?” He said, “You’ll be finished when it’s done. And it’s not done till it’s done right.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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