For those of you who know me, you know what an ardent University of Tennessee supporter I am. I am that crazy Alum who goes to most of the games, who wears Orange during the week before a big game, who will sing Rocky Top until I lose my voice… Yes, I am that kind of fan. If you were watching the news yesterday, though, fans and alumni of UT received heartbreaking news. Our beloved Women’s Basketball coach, Pat Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed with early onset Dementia – Alzheimer’s. Immediately, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were covered with friends offering their prayers, support and thoughts to Coach Summitt. I reflected yesterday on what she has meant not only to basketball, not only to women’s sports, but also to women.
She has the highest number of wins of any coach in basketball, regardless of gender. She has coached young women into becoming more than the world at times thought they could be. She transformed women’s basketball from a sport that was more intramural into a sport that garners national and international attention. She did not do this by screaming that the world was not fair to women, she did not accomplish this by whining, she pushed herself and her teams to greatness through her sheer force of will and her inability to accept anything less than her and her player’s all.
However, what she helped change wasn’t just women’s basketball, she changed women and what we thought we could accomplish. You will see her accomplishments anytime you look in a boardroom and see a woman at the table, you can see her influence in the engineering classrooms across the country that were once foreign territory to women, you can see her in all of the amazing women who have stepped up to become what they were meant to be. Her influence can be seen in the young woman who has never had to believe that she couldn’t do something just because she is female.
I would like to believe that my generation has been doubly blessed. Not only were we allowed to grow up watching Coach Summitt on TV leading her team to victory or the rare defeat with class, grace and excellence, we have been able to witness her impact on sports (men’s and women’s). I find it tragically ironic that of all the people who have accomplished great things in their lives, that Coach Summitt who has earned the opportunity to reflect back on her storied life will not always be able to do so. But, we the fans, we the young women who have been shaped by her and others like her who changed our world, we will remember. My thoughts and prayers are with Pat Summitt and her family as they learn to live with this diagnosis and move forward. Coach Summitt will always be our Coach.