Remembering Pat Summitt

By: 
Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

Monday night I finished reading Pat Summitt’s latest book titled “Sum It Up.” The book was written by Summitt with Sally Jenkins after Summitt received the news that she had early-onset dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) in 2011. Before I went to sleep I wondered how Summitt was doing. One never heard about her after she retired from coaching at Tennessee following her diagnosis. It was very much a surprise to hear on the radio on Tuesday morning that Summitt had died at the age of 64.

Although I could never come close to Summitt’s coaching career, as I read her book I was struck by a number of similarities. Summitt and I are the same age. She grew up on a farm with four brothers in Tennessee, while I grew up on a farm in Montana with two brothers and a sister. 

In her book Summitt tells how she and her brothers often played basketball in the hayloft of their barn. I have many memories of shooting baskets until late at night in the hayloft of our barn.

Summitt was lucky enough to play basketball in high school, but it was the old three-on-three game that girls played back then. I got to only play probably three or four games of girls’ basketball in high school. Luckily we got to play the regular five-on-five full court game. 

Summitt began her coaching career at the University of Tennessee as the head women’s coach at the age of 22. I began teaching and coaching at Harlem High School in Harlem, Montana also at the age of 22. During my first coaching job at Harlem, I started the girls’ basketball program. I quickly learned how much I did not know about basketball. Luckily the boys’ P.E. teacher was also a basketball coach. He was our bus driver that first year and gave me lots of coaching advice.

Summitt went on to coach 38 years with 1,098 victories and eight national championships. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that every woman who played basketball for Summitt at Tennessee graduated from college. 

My numbers are a lot less impressive. I was only a head girls’ basketball coach for five years, and my total number of victories probably never reached 30. But the two of us began coaching just as Title IX came into law, and we were able to see the tremendous impact the law had on girls’ and women’s athletics throughout the United States. 

We both have one son. Summitt’s only child, Tyler, came after she suffered six miscarriages. Mine was a lot easier – I adopted Mike when he was 11. 

Most people might say, “so why is she even writing this column,” as I could never live up to Summitt’s accolades. You would be correct of course, but for many of us who began coaching in the early years, Summitt was someone we all would have liked to emulate. 

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