Today is a sad day. Pat Summitt has retired as the head basketball coach for the Tennessee Lady Vols.
“I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer’s through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.”
On September 1, 2011, Summitt announced she had the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. She said she wanted to continue to coach as long as she could. After a 27-9 season, she was forced to call it a career to tend to her health. Her long time assistant, Holly Warlick will replace her.
A sad day indeed.
On the day she told the world of her health change, I wrote the following:
1071 wins, the winningest college basketball coach of all time. 59 years old. 36 years, the head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols. 18 final four appearances. 8 national championships.
Why do I list these numbers? It was announced by Pat Summitt herself that she has been diagnosed by the Mayo Clinic with early on-set dementia. Coach Summitt has spent more than half her life in Knoxville coaching women’s basketball and has been more successful than another ANY college basketball coach, man or woman.
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No one should experience memory loss. The brain and its amazing functions keep so many memories alive within us. It powers us. For Summitt, her brain has made her a legend. An icon. A hero. She has coached her players to the summit (pun intended) better than anyone else and with this news, she may start to forget some of those triumphs.
She is an impressive lady. Her numbers speak volumes about her career. On paper, any sports fan can’t help but say, “Wow, she is the best!” What strikes me the most about her character as a person is the fact that she made the announcement on Tuesday, August 23, 2011, was all by herself, sitting on a couch calmly stating her situation and her hope to continue coaching at Tennessee. It was not done in a press conference or via letter issued to media outlets, but by one woman talking directly to her faithful with class and dignity.
Class and dignity are two words that unfortunately do not get used very often regarding head coaches in sports today. Scandals have rocked many college campuses, but last Tuesday, the best that college athletics has to offer was on display. Unfortunately, it was to announce a developing neurological disorder for which there is no cure.
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Pat Summitt’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s. My grandmother had it too. It is a disease that is frustrating for the individual living with it and agonizing for friends and family. Witnessing a once powerful figure slip away memory by memory is hard to endure. Tennessee fans love Pat. They would carve her face on Mount Rushmore if they could get away with it, and she would be deserving to be in the company of the men immortalized.
There is no doubt that Summitt will add to the numbers above. More wins, at least another year as the head Lady Vol and hopefully many years yet to live. But as she does, those numbers will fade away in her mind. So will the memories of the wins and the loses and so will the experiences of her life. Over time, she will remember less and less and become a shell of the pioneer and leader she is today. There may come a day when she will not be able to tell you how many points a free throw is worth, but there will never be a day anyone will be able to deny that she was the greatest basketball coach to storm the sidelines of a college game. Don’t you forget that!