By Ralphine Major
I always thought she belonged to Knoxville and Tennessee. Sometimes, I almost forgot that along the way, this local celebrity became a national icon. Pat Head Summitt was the Head Coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols for 38 years.
Pat’s life story sounds like something in a movie: a farm girl from Henrietta, Tennessee, who rose to prominence through the game of basketball. Her many accomplishments have become common knowledge to most people. Some of the recognitions she received included Olympic medalist as player and coach, Coach of the Year many times, basketball courts named in her honor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Just one of these is quite an honor. Pat spent her life’s work building the Lady Vols basketball program into a powerhouse at The University of Tennessee. As she elevated women’s basketball nationwide, the lady became a legend.
When Pat was stricken with Alzheimer’s five years ago, her leadership rose to an even higher level. She dealt with a personal issue publicly, and she did it with grace and class.
For 38 years, Pat was a joy to watch on the basketball court. I still miss seeing her stroll along the Tennessee bench with her unique poise, confidence, and signature glare. The nation has lost an amazing leader—one that is truly in a class of her own. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and former players during this time.