I remember as a student at Virginia Tech, basketball was somewhat of an afterthought. The men’s team was average and the women’s team was not good. We were in ACC country and you could catch far more games on TV from them than the Metro Conference that we were in. In fact, there was a lot of North Carolina and Duke gear worn on campus mingling in with Hokie attire.
But one of those times when there was a buzz on campus was when Tennessee came to town. Women’s basketball was rarely on TV or talked about in the papers. But the Lady Vols were a well know commodity. When the name Pat Summitt was mentioned, there was no question who people were talking about. She had that type of presence. Her teams had that type of presence. In sports terms, they were like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. It was must see and for many Hokies like myself, we were going to be in Cassell Colisuem when they came to play.
I thought about that memory when I heard Summitt passed away this week. The records and the National Championships are astounding feats but I thought about the presence. I thought about the fierce competitor on the sidelines urging her team onward in competition. I thought about the name and the program and the respect that the nation had for it.
Summitt built the Volunteer program from next to nothing. In then 1970’s women’s sports weren’t even sanctioned by the NCAA. There was no funding, no scholarships, and forget about a Final Four. But look where we are now. Programs are household names, at times more popular and successful than their male counterparts. Final Fours are sold out every year no matter where they are played.
But it’s more than that. Summitt was a true leader and communicator who made her players better and her teams better. Eight National Championships prove that. But go deeper and you’ll see better people, confident women ready to take on the world once their Volunteer playing days were over. Check the one hundred percent graduation rate of her players and you would probably more pride from Summitt than any of her victories on the court.
Think about this. Tennessee thought so much of Pat Summitt as a leader that they offered her the head coaching job of the men’s Volunteer program.
No one is guaranteed to live forever and Pat Summitt left us far too soon. But the legacy that she left on not only women’s basketball but for sports in general will last forever. She’ll go down as one of the greatest coaches in the history of all sports. Forget about gender and forget about basketball. Great leaders are great leaders and Pat Summitt deserves a place at the top of the coaching mountain.