Pat Summitt broke the glass ceiling in the male-dominated world of sports.

Pat Summitt’s name is one that comes up often, and not just in the world of college basketball. I didn’t grow up watching college sports. I couldn’t—still can’t—name players, teams, team colors or coaches. (Full disclosure, if it wasn’t for Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs facing Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals, I still wouldn’t be watching any sports today.)

Yet despite all of this, I knew who Pat Summitt was. More specifically, I knew her words, words that were used often to inspire the athletes at my all-girls, Catholic high school. No matter how difficult practices seemed, or how disappointing losses were, Summitt’s words inspired us. When we lost volleyball games, we were reminded to “think positive thoughts daily,” reminded to “believe in yourself.” When running in August heat seemed unbearable, we were reminded that in pushing ourselves, even when physically drained, those were the moments “you become a competitor.” These words are just part of her legacy.

Advertisement

Born in 1952 in Clarksville, Tenn., Summitt played basketball at the University of Tennessee at Martin, achieving All-American honors. At the age of 22, at a time when college basketball for women was not yet recognized by the N.C.A.A., she became the head coach of the Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee. During Summitt’s coaching career, the Lady Vols racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. These include: 16 Southeastern Conference regular season titles, Sweet 16 appearances every year except 2009 and 18 Final Four appearances.

In addition to coaching at U.T., Summitt won the Olympic Gold Medal as head coach of the U.S. Women’s basketball team in 1984. And in 2000 she was named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century. And, after University of California, Los Angeles’ John Wooden and University of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Summitt had the most N.C.A.A. championship titles in college basketball history.

Today, after suffering from complications due to early-onset Alzheimer’s, Pat Summitt died at the age of 64. Her track record will be hard to match. Summitt had 38 years of successful coaching at U.T.; became one of the most winningest coaches in college basketball history; and was the very first coach, female or male, to reach 1,000 victories in her career.

When you list women who have “broken the glass ceiling,” particularly in the male-dominated sports world, Summitt’s name deserves a top spot—maybe the top spot.

Olga Segura is an associate editor at America.

 
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018
Sexual orientation by itself is irrelevant to child sexual abuse. The risk factors include impulse control problems and substance abuse, and offenders take advantage of situations in which they are trusted.
Thomas G. PlanteOctober 22, 2018
“Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2018
Paddy Considine in ‘The Ferryman’ (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the fallen world of “The Ferryman,” conflict and compromise poison everything.
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 22, 2018