When looking back through the history of a popular sport, some people may single out the person that invented said sport. Some may find a player or a coach that was the first to dominate the sport.
What we don't see is a coach that changes a game so much so many years after the sport had already become popular and established. Pat Head Summitt, whose battle with early-onset dementia forced her to step down as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers after 38 years, did just that.
When she coached her first game at Tennessee in December of 1974, high school girls teams still played mid-court ball, meaning they never crossed mid-court. In other words, backyard basketball.
Hearing anyone talk about being in the same room with Summitt is similar to those who've been in a room when Paul "Bear" Bryant arrived. Whether you were looking or not, you knew when he crossed the threshold. The same is said about Summitt.
To compare Summitt and Bryant is fair. Heck, it should be required. Honestly, when taking a closer look, Summitt may be even better. Bryant did wonders for a state that had more than just a black eye. Alabama had brain damage.
We can talk all day about Bryant's influence on Alabama, but let's look at Summitt. Summitt did many of the things Bryant did, but she did it as a woman in a male-driven field. Even in women's basketball, the popular belief in that day and time was still that men were smarter and a better fit to wear the pants(uit) on the sideline.
Not only did she fight the normal battles of a head coach of a new program in the early 1970s, she had to fight the stigma that women coaching was nothing more than a cute gesture and a pat on the head. Almost like giving a toddler a television remote control with no batteries so they believe they are changing the channels like daddy.
There's so much more that will be told about Pat today and over the next few weeks. Things like Peyton Manning talking to her before committing to Tennessee out of high school. I'd rather leave those stories for those who covered her and know her best. I would just be regurgitating information I read from those same writers and reporters.
Her greatest story has yet to be told. Not only did she nearly single-handedly build women's basketball to the national game it is today, she's now changing the game of early-onset dementia. Entering "early onset dementia" in a Google search will yield a Pat Summitt reference within three results. The first two results are a Wikipedia article on the topic and the Mayo Clinic's description of the symptoms and diagnosis. To say Summitt has already brought an awareness to the disease would be a gross understatement.
As a new father of a daughter, I want to say thank you to Pat for doing what she's done for women's sports. She's put women's basketball on a high enough pedestal where a girl can dream of playing a sport on a large stage and that dream actually come true. Maybe not with football or baseball, but most certainly with basketball.
And one out of three ain't bad.Back to the Alabama Crimson Tide Newsfeed