Today, June 28,2016, the sports world has lost another icon. A woman whose influence, fortitude and vision helped to shape the sport of women’s college basketball. Pat Summitt has passed away. What John Wooden meant to the men’s game, Pat was the women’s game equivalent.
The numbers speak for themselves,and there are too many to list here, but here is a sample:
• 1,098 career wins
• 8x National Champion
• 16x SEC Champion
• .841 winning percentage
• 7x NCAA Coach of the Year
• Womens Basketball Hall of Fame (inaugural class)
• Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
Pat Summitt began coaching the University of Tennessee at the age of 21 and from that point on it was the only job she ever had, save for an Olympic team and a few National teams. One of her life long endeavors was to bring women’s college basketball to a place on par with the mens game.
A daunting task for sure, she knew the way to achieve this was to create a dynasty. America loves a winner, and rarely settles for less. Her plan was very clear, keep winning and you will be noticed. That is exactly what happened, winning became second nature at Tennessee, Pat’s determination and ideals were forged into her players. By 1994 Tennessee had won three national titles but was still lacking something. Competition was sparse, and it became apparent that Tennessee needed a rival.
A team just as good, just as confident, just as determined. Enter the University of Connecticut, an up and coming program with a brash, young coach named Geno Auriemma.
ESPN was looking for an opponent to fill UConn’s Martin Luther King Day game at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. Numerous opponents declined, Pat Summitt gladly accepted. She was of the notion that Tennessee will play anyone, anywhere, anytime, especially if it further showcased womens college basketball.
As fate would have it, April 16, 1995, Tennessee was ranked number one in the country while Connecticut was number two. Connecticut won the game and became number one for the first time in school history, but that is not what most people remember about the game. This game catapulted women’s basketball to the forefront of womens college sports.
The media took notice, advertisers took notice, fans took notice. They would play twenty-two games in their rivalry over the years and each year it was as if the Uconn-Tennessee matchup was the only game that mattered. The women’s game has skyrocketed in part because Pat Summitt agreed to play that first game.
These past few days have been extremely difficult for anyone who knew her. Former players, family members, and even fans are shedding tears today as we all say goodbye to an extraordinary woman.
Yes, America loves a winner, America loves Pat Summitt.