For nearly four decades, the University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball program has been among the nation’s elite and, in the process, has changed the way women’s collegiate hoops is perceived across the country.
No one did a better job of managing what goes on inside the 94×50 rectangle known as a collegiate basketball court than the UT legend. Her unfathomable victories, eight NCAA Championships and 32 combined Southeastern Conference titles speak to her incredible management and mastery of the 4,700 square feet of round ball real estate. And few have even come close to accomplishing what she has done outside the lines for the last 38 years. To her peers, she is forthright, well-respected, ethical, and a winner who serves as a shining example in the sport of collegiate basketball.
"She" is Pat Head Summitt, head coach emeritus of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer basketball team, who concluded a 38-year tenure at the helm of the Lady Vols on April 18, 2012, with a 1,098-208 overall record, after raising the bar in the collegiate basketball world every time she stepped out on the court.
On Aug. 23, 2011, Summitt may have raised the bar on courage, as she bravely revealed the toughest opponent she will ever have to battle, early onset dementia, "Alzheimer’s Type," after the doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed her at the age of 59. To be sure, Summitt took on this invisible opponent with her signature game plan.
The Tennessee skipper didn’t look at it as a bold move; rather continuing her lifelong practice of both herself and her program being an open book.
In the 2011-12 season, the most demanding on Summitt and her program, the Lady Vols finished the year with a 27-9 overall record and carried the banner as the 2012 SEC Tournament Champions.
UT finished the 2012 season losing to No. 1-ranked Baylor while battling for a spot in the NCAA Final Four. The Lady Vols were stopped just short of their goal to be cutting down nets in Denver, site of the 2012 Final Four.
All season long, all eyes were on Summitt and her team. They were greeted in arenas nationwide with standing-ovation tributes to Summitt, as she guided her team through the nation’s toughest schedule and a sea of "We Back Back" t-shirts.
The "We Back Pat" campaign sprang up overnight and went viral in the social media world following Summitt’s medical announcement. A t-shirt was born with the slogan, and proceeds started pouring into Summitt-picked organizations, Alzheimer’s Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
In November 2011, Summitt announced the formation of her foundation, the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund, with the proceeds going toward cutting-edge research. On May 31, 2012, the Southeastern Conference and its member institutions announced an incredibly-generous contribution, donating $100,000 to the effort.
In announcing her diagnosis, Pat was being just Pat, but a number of organizations hailed her courage to come forward.
The United States Sports Academy awarded Summitt its 2011 Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award for her indomitable spirit in her public battle with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. On Oct. 4, it was announced that Summitt would receive the 2011 Maggie Dixon Courage Award. Also in October, The Huffington Post named Summitt a 2011 Game Changer – an innovator, leader and role model who is changing the way we look at the world and the way we live in it. The Tennessee Communication Association selected Summitt for its most prestigious award, Communicator of the Year.
The honors continued. Among those was Summitt being announced by President Barack Obama as the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom on April 19, 2012, and honored at the White House on May 29. She also earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition on May 3. Additionally, she has been announced as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame’s 2012 Tennessean of the Year, the winner of the 2012 Pop Warner Female Achievement Award and the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which will be presented on July 11 at the 2012 ESPYs.
The incomparable Summitt has built collegiate basketball’s "hoopdom" at Tennessee. A program developed tirelessly, diligently and successfully by Summitt, her staff and the 161 student-athletes who have been fortunate enough to don the orange and white jerseys of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
A review of Summitt’s résumé shows she has kept her elite program in the winner’s circle for almost four decades, producing a mind-boggling record of 1,098-208 (.840) that includes the most victories in NCAA basketball history. During her tenure, the Lady Vols have won eight NCAA titles, as well as an amazing 32 Southeastern Conference tournament and regular season championships. Tennessee has made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and produced 12 Olympians, 20 Kodak All-Americans named to 34 teams, and 77 All-SEC performers. Along with the success on the court, Summitt’s student-athletes have tremendous productivity in the classroom. Coach Summitt has a 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Vols who have completed their eligibility at Tennessee.
Her honors and achievements over the years number in the hundreds. The Sporting News named the 50 Greatest Coaches of All-Time. Summitt was voted the 11th best of all-time and was the only woman on the list. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 5, 1999 and into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on October 13, 2000. Other more accolades include a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 5, 2009; an honorary doctorate from the United States Sports Academy on May 19, 2009; receiving the 2009 WNBA Inspiring Coach Award on April 7, 2009, and being honored by her peers with the RUSSELL ATHLETIC/WBCA Victory Club Award for 1,000 career wins on April 6, 2009. She was inducted as the third member of the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame on June 17, 2011, and was announced on Dec. 5 as the 2011 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Sportswoman of the Year alongside 2011 Sportsman of the Year, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.