Legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt dies at 64

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo, former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Knoxville, Tenn. Amid reports of Summitt’s failing health as her Alzheimer’s disease progresses, her family issued a statement Sunday, June 26, 2016, asking for prayers and saying that the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach is surrounded by the people who mean the most to her. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

 

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Legendary Lady Vols Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt has died.

Her son Tyler Summitt released a statement early Tuesday morning:

“It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my mother, Patricia Sue Head Summitt.

She died peacefully this morning at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.

Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced. Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.

For 64 years, my mother first built her life upon a strong relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Her foundation was also built upon love of her family and of her players, and love of the fundamentals of hard work which reflected her philosophy that ‘you win in life with people’.

She was the fourth of five children – Tommy, Charles, Kenneth and Linda – born to Richard and Hazel Head on June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tenn.  Her tireless work ethic and her love of the game of basketball were created during the time she spent growing up on the family farm.

She’ll be remembered as the all-time winningest D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history, but she was more than a coach to so many – she was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure.

We will all miss her immensely.

A private service and burial will be held for my mother in Middle Tennessee.  I ask that you respect the privacy of that time.

We are in the process of finalizing the details of a public celebration of her life which will take place in one of her favorite places, Thompson-Boling Arena. Once those details are finalized, we will share them with you.

Thank you.”

Fans are able to visit Pat Summitt Plaza on the UT campus to pay respect. There will be free parking in the G-10 garage, east of Thompson-Boling Arena.

 

Summitt’s career as the winningest coach in college basketball history spanned nearly four decades and earned her a reputation as one of the toughest coaches of either a men’s or women’s team.

In the summer of 2011, Summitt received the news she had been diagnosed with early on-set dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a disease she shares with 5.4 million Americans, but this challenge for her career and her family never took away her spirit. Friends always called her a fighter on and off the court.

Thirty-eight years, 1098 wins, 32 conference titles, 31 NCAA tournament appearances and eight national championships are the numbers that put her in the stratosphere of coaches, but the number are far from the whole story.

Summitt built a program and legacy that etched her name in sports history, from the dawn of Title IX to the 21st century where women’s basketball is not only popular, but played with all the ferocity and competitiveness of the men’s game.

Summitt was born Patricia Sue Head in 1952 in Clarksville, Tennessee. Her family moved to nearby Henrietta when she was in high school so she could play basketball.

The school in Clarksville did not have a girls’ team. She then attended University of Tennessee-Martin, where she played for the school’s first women’s basketball coach.

Summitt was hired as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville just before the 1974-75 season at the age of 21. At a time when lots of colleges did not even have women’s teams, let alone scholarships, Summitt was still working on her master’s degree while paving the way on the sidelines.

At just 22-years-old, Summitt was named head coach when the previous head coach suddenly resigned. Some of the players were only a year younger than Summitt when she first started. Her first win came about a month into her coaching career against Middle Tennessee State.

In her second season, Summitt led the Lady Vols to a 16-11 record while at the same time earning her master’s degree in physical education and training as co-captain of the first United States women’s national basketball team at the 1976 Olympics as a player. The team won the silver medal.

The wins started piling up as team got better with each passing season. The Lady Vols closed the 1970s by winning the first-ever SEC tournament and competing in back-to-back Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Woman Final Fours.

The 1981-82 season had the first-ever NCAA Women’s basketball tournament. The Lady Vols were one of 32 teams invited and named a number two seed. The team upset top seeded USC to advance to the Final Four, where they lost to eventual tournament winner Louisiana Tech.

Summitt won her 300th game in December 1982. She was named head coach of the team that eventually represented the USA at the 1984 Olympics. The team won all eight of its games and the gold medal.

“I’ll be very honest with you, it has not been difficult to bring this team to a gold medal situation,” said Summitt in an interview after she brought home a gold medal from the Olympics. “I think they were committed from the very beginning and I think if in looking back and reflecting on the last eight years, we’re seeing that there are better athletes playing the game now, there is a greater number of athletes playing the game now and as a result women’s basketball is just getting better and better.”

The Lady Vols’ first national title came in 1987 when they defeated Louisiana Tech. The 500th win for Summitt came early in the 1993-94 season.

Along the way, Summitt also built her family. Her son, Tyler, started as a fixture at the edge of the court. He learned from his mom, growing into a coach himself. “My mom, just really led by example,” said Tyler Summitt in an interview. “I mean her faith, going to church, what she did with the staff and the family and the team and just leading by example and how she did things.”

Like her son, Summitt raised players to become coaches and those players were good students too. The same fire signature stare that rocked referees and put opponents on their heels motivated student athletes to focus on the books as much as the court.

“For all of us, we learned what it takes to be a leader and what it takes to be a great woman, what it takes to be a great lady, what it takes to have character, what it takes to have poise,” said former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings.

The graduation rate for all Lady Vols who completed their eligibility at Tennessee under Summitt was 100 percent. “She’s one of the most inspiring women in my life. It’s not that she just talks about it, she lives it,” said former player Candace Parker.

The 1997-98 season is generally considered Summit’s best, with a top-ranking recruiting class and star player Chamique Holdsclaw. The team went undefeated with a 39-0 season and only three teams came within 10 points of beating the team. The Lady Vols defeated Louisiana Tech for a third straight national title.

The Lady Vols was named co-team of the decade at the 2000 ESPY Awards along with the Florida State Seminoles football team.

Summitt’s team continued powering through the 2000s, with such highly regarded players as Candace Parker and her 880th win, making her the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. The University of Tennessee put her name on a street and the court and her teams kept winning, crossing the 1,000 mark in 2009.

However, it wasn’t long after her 1,000th win that Summitt said she started noticing something was wrong. She said she found herself having trouble talking to her players one-on-one and making in-game decisions.

Then, in August of 2011, in a Washington Post article written by friend and co-author of Summitt’s biography, Sally Jenkins, Summitt revealed that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s, at just 59-years-old. The diagnosis didn’t stop Summitt though.

Retirement and ‘We Back Pat’

True to her “can’t quit” nature, she kept coaching and the world saw a new advocacy spring up.

The “We Back Pat” campaign sprung up overnight, going viral worldwide. In her retirement, her Pat Summitt Foundation worked tirelessly to raise funds for cutting-edge research for Alzheimer’s and other similar diseases. The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center is set to open this December.

“Pat told me the other day, she said ‘Jona, I’m not going to be remembered just for winning basketball games. I’m going to be remembered for making a difference in this disease,’” said Director of Women’s Athletics Joan Cronan after it was announced that the Tennessee Blue Book had been dedicated in recognition of Pat Summit’s career as a coach, a life-skills mentor and aggressive fundraiser for Alzheimer’s disease research.

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