Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SRPS Role Model: Pat Summitt - basketball icon

Pat Summitt (June 14, 1952 – June 28, 2016) is best known as the inspirational basketball coach with a record-setting 1098 career wins, but how much do you know about her life and how her basketball career highlights the changing climate for women in sports?

Pat was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, into a family filled with sports fans and athletes. When she was in high school, her parents moved to a nearby town just so she could play basketball. This was years before Title IX, and her hometown school didn't offer a girls team.

When she enrolled in the University of Tennessee at Martin, she didn't receive an athletic scholarship like her brothers did, because colleges didn't have to offer parity in sports funding and scholarships. And still, she won All-American honors. And I have to wonder what role her college coach, Nadine Gearin, the woman who founded the UT-Martin women's team, played in Pat's career choice?

After graduating from UT-Martin, Pat took a position as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), where she was also appointed as the new head coach of the women's basketball team, the Lady Vols, to replace the previous coach who quit abruptly. This was certainly a fortuitous turn of events for both Pat and UT. Her first season with the team, 1974-75, they won their district championship, setting a precedent that would define her career.

The next year, while still coaching another winning team, she was also earning her master's degree in physical education AND training as co-captain for the 1976 Women's Olympic team. They won the silver medal in the first-ever Olympic women's basketball competition.

She and her Lady Vols went on to have 38 winning seasons. In fact, she never had a losing season in her long coaching career. And when she coached the US Women's Team in the 1984 Olympics she took home a gold medal to go next to her silver.

When she retired, she had won eight NCAA championships, a NCAA women's record, with an astonishing 1,098 wins, the most in the entire NCAA history. I'm sure it's no surprise that she's an SRPS Role Model. This woman who had to chase her dream of playing basketball at a time when women's sports weren't taken seriously, went on to have a serious impact on women's sports by coaching some of the world's best players and bringing world-wide attention to women's basketball.

You can read more about her coaching career in this 1998 Sports Illustrated article "Eyes Of The Storm."

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