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The Legacy of Pat Summitt

The Legacy of Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt’s impact on the game of basketball carries on through today’s NCAA tournament and beyond

It has been well established that College Basketball has been king of March for years. From the anticipation of Selection Sunday, to filling out dozens of brackets, to Cinderella stealing the dance, March Madness is nothing short of being culture. However, history shows every king is stronger with a dynamic and strong-willed queen. That queen of college basketball departed this world nearly a decade ago, but her influence on the sport lives on well beyond her mortal body. 

Patricia “Pat” Summitt (nee: Head) was born in Clarksville in 1952 and was immediately destined for greatness. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, girls’ basketball did not have nearly the societal focus it does today, but that did not stop her family from moving to Henrietta so their prodigy of a daughter could play higher level high school basketball. Known as “Trish” to her family and Cheatham County High School classmates, she was a community favorite being voted “Most Popular” and “Basketball Sweetheart” during her Senior year – I guess she hadn’t quite developed the infamous Summitt Snarl just yet. 

Summitt went on to play AIAW basketball at Tennessee-Martin from 1970-1974. Despite representing a small program, she was an instant success receiving All-American honors as a Freshman, foreshadowing her now-prestigious coaching career. The University of Tennessee would come calling following her final season and added her as a Graduate assistant for the 1974-75 season, or so she thought. When the head coach abruptly quit, the school asked her to go ahead and lead the program at the tender age of 22. No big deal! 

Tennessee Women’s Basketball would not become a part of the NCAA until 1981 and at the beginning of her coaching tenure, Summitt would wash the players’ jerseys herself and drive the team bus. Pretty wild for a woman, excuse me, I mean the Queen of Basketball, that would go on to lead the Lady Vols to eight national titles, win over 1,000 games, and finish her tenure with a salary of nearly $2 million a season. 

Everything Pat Summitt touched turned to gold. Literally. She led the USA Women’s Team to a Gold Medal at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in LA and finished off the 1980’s by collecting two NCAA titles at UT. Summitt and the Lady Vols were the team of the 90’s while capturing three straight national championships from ’96-’98, four titles total, and six Final Four appearances. As the 2000’s rolled in, rival Geno Auriemma burst onto the scene at UConn, but that didn’t slow Pat Summitt’s ambition. She would land future WNBA superstar Candace Parker, who spurred Connecticut to join Tennessee and helped collect Summitt’s final two national titles in 2007 and 2008. 

In August 2011 at the age of 59, Pat Summitt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and would subsequently retire in 2012 and passed away in 2016. Finishing with a record of 1,098-208 (.841), eight championships, and an NCAA tournament appearance in every single season she coached is overwhelmingly impressive on its own merits. However, what she did for the game, and women in sports, will last for decades to come. Summitt’s fierce competitive nature, basketball brilliance, and commitment to excellence is a model for all to follow, men and women alike. Her memory now lives on in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Knoxville.