In sports, fight for the rights of women

In 2012, Pat Summitt was
awarded the presidential medal of freedom by president Barack Obama. Pat was
also named to “Sporting News’s”  list of
the fifty greatest coaches                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            of
all time in 2009. She was the only woman to appear on the list (Summitt and
Jenkins 385). This proves that Pat was a leader in women’s sports and that she
was recognized by many. Pat had a huge impact on a wide varieties of people and
she changed women’s basketball forever. This information leads the readers to
ask: What qualities enabled Pat Summitt to be one of the most influential
women’s basketball coaches of all time? This question can be answered by
discussing three main points. Those would be her upbringing and personal life,
her journey fighting for the rights of women playing basketball, and her legacy
and remembrance. After these points are discussed, it makes it clear that Pat
Summitt’s determination, compassion, and dedication allowed her to earn respect
for women’s sports, fight for the rights of women playing basketball, and
change the lives of everyone she coached.

            Summitt grew up on a farm in Clarksville, Tennessee. She
grew up poor, and her family lived from crop to crop. Pat was a very hard
worker on the farm, although her father did not give her much of a choice. She
worked sun up to sun down every day. She had four siblings. She had three older
brothers-Tommy, Charles, and Kenneth-and a younger sister, Linda (“Pat
Summitt,” Encyclopedia).  Sibling rivalry was very present between
her brothers and her. They played basketball in the hayloft. Her brothers did
not take it easy on her either. This instilled competition into her at a very
young age (Summitt and Jenkins 1). Pat was impacted by many people, but mainly
by her father, Richard Head. Pat’s father was a six-foot five man who had a
voice that sounded like the bottom of a steel drum. He was very intimidating.
Everyone respected him and looked up to him. He did not talk much but when he
did, he meant it (27). Richard didn’t do much to show support and encouragement
towards Pat. One way he did though, was his encouragement in his daughter’s
obvious basketball talent. He supported her every move as a basketball player
and even into her coaching career. He was a very strict father and a physically
violent disciplinarian. He expected a lot from his kids. Pat feared him but
also credited him for instilling drive and competitiveness in his children (“Pat
Summit”). Bring a farm kid her whole
life, Pat learned life skills such as determination and dedication that stuck
with her. Her father and brothers pushed her and made her work hard as a child.

            Summitt’s
never-ending success within the game of basketball started in high school. Pat
was a stand out in her high school community. Pat attended Cheatham County all
four years of her high school career. She started all four of those years that
she attended the school (“Pat Summit,” Encyclopedia).
Pat went on to college after high school to continue her basketball career.
She attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, in Martin, Tennessee. Pat
struggled at college when she first got there. She struggled to fit in, being a
farm girl from Tennessee. She joined a sorority to help her make friends and
fit in. It did indeed help her. She started to make friends and overcome her
shyness (Summit and Jenkins 56-57). When it came to basketball in college, Pat
had a tough experience too. Her team built themselves from the ground up. They
had no funds for the team and no support from anyone on the campus or in the
community. Pat’s team did fundraisers, put on car washes, and got financial
support from their parents. They finally began to raise money for food, gas,
and transportation means. In saying this, Summitt’s first year at UT Martin was
tough for her, both in academics and basketball. But, showing her intense
determination to succeed, she never gave up. Even though, the team struggled at
first they persevered and accepted the challenge. They were never given
anything, they earned it (63-64).  Pat
still managed to leave UT at Martin as the all-time leading scorer with 1,045
career points (384).

Summitt’s
success as a player wasn’t over after college though. She even made an impact
in the Olympics. She was co-captain of the U.S women’s team in the 1976 Olympic
games in Montreal. She led the team, to win a silver medal. She also continued
her Olympic success on the coaching side of things. She was an assistant coach
in the 1980 games. She then emerged as head coach of the U.S Women’s team in
1984. Summitt proceeded to lead the team to a gold medal. (“Pat Summitt”) This
proves that Summitt had an impact on all parts of basketball. Summit was
determined to change women’s basketball and her fight to do this was just
beginning.

Fighting
for the rights of women’s basketball was a pretty crazy journey for Summitt.
She didn’t only fight this battle on the court she fought it in court. On
August 24,1976, women’s basketball changed forever and Pat Summitt had a big
role in this incredible change. Summit assisted Victoria Cape, as her star
witness, in a battle to get women in high school the rights to play real,
full-court basketball. The game women played previous to the court case was
unfair. Women were only allowed to play 6-player (3 forwards, and 3 guards),
split-court basketball. The forwards would stay on one side to pass and shoot
and the guards would stay on the other side and were only allowed to play
defense. People saw high school girls playing basketball as “young flowers of
the South” and thought that running down an eight-four-foot basketball court
was too vigorous.  Summitt argued in
court that not playing full-court was a mental and physical handicap and that
it caused women to miss out on college scholarship opportunities. She said
girls in Tennessee were being “saddled” and were being held back from future
opportunities. The court case received full-media coverage and ended on
November 24, 1976. (Haltom) Summit’s dedication really came out when she was
seen on and in the court fighting for what she believed in.

Judge
Taylor, a pervious athlete assigned to the case, ruled six-player, half-court
basketball unconstitutional and stated that women would now be allowed to play
full-court basketball the way men played it. But, the TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association) denied
Judge Taylor’s ruling. The case was then sent to the U.S court of appeals.
Judge Taylor continued to fight with Victoria and later that year, women were
granted the right to play full-court basketball again. This time though, nobody
could deny it so it had to be enforced.  This
case came to be the start of a new type of basketball in TN and Summitt had a
huge role in the success of it. The case that Pat Summitt lead is now referred
to as the “full-court press”. (Haltom) This case remains one of Summitt’s
biggest successes. Compassion from Summitt came through and showed throughout
this whole case while she demonstrated her care and concern for high school
girls playing the sport of basketball. She never stopped displaying her love
for the sport and she did this in many different ways. This case is another way
to prove how influential Summitt was for women’s basketball.

After Summit was finished with her success in the courtroom,
she had major success on the basketball floor. Summitt became the head coach of
the Lady Vols women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee in 1994.
She was a graduate assistant until the head coach suddenly quit, then it was
her time to shine. Her team racked up NCAA titles in 1989, 1991, 1997, and 1998
and this is how Summitt’s fame really grew. The Lady Vols had a run between
1996-1998 that marked the first time any Women’s NCAA team won back-to-back
championships. Her team ended up being undefeated in the 1997-1998 season.
Nobody really saw this coming, but Summitt was about to become one of the most
successful college basketball coaches of all time (“Pat Summitt”). After the
Lady Vols started to playing outstanding basketball, fans started to come from
all around. Everyone wanted to see this extraordinary team play. People began
to want season tickets and wanted to donate to the team. Crowds of 6,000 filled
the gym on game days roaring and cheering in support for their Lady Vols
(Summitt and Jenkins 123). Summitt’s success continued in all 38 years of her eventful
coaching career. She had lots of success when looking at her career from a
statistic standpoint. But more importantly to her, she success came from the
impact she left on every player and their academic successes. Even though,
Summitt had an incredible passion for the sport of basketball, she required her
players to put a lot of their time into academics. When her career ended, she
had a 100% graduation rate on top of her 1,098 career wins. (8)  

Summit’s success seemed like it was never going to end. Every
year she continued to make a mark on women’s basketball. As a coach, she seemed
unstoppable. Eventually, something came up that did stop her. In 2011, Pat was
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the progressive neurological illness that attacks
the brain, affecting ability to remember and reason. She began to draw blanks
while coaching, forget hang signals, had empty moments, and didn’t know what to
say. Summitt tried to deny the fact that she was becoming ill. She continued to
coach and tell people that she was fine. Finally, she took these signs and
traveled to Mayo Clinic with her son Tyler. The doctors diagnosed her and told
her that she was going to have to quit coaching sooner rather than later
(Summit and Jenkins 10-16). Summitt was not ready to be done with her coaching
debut yet. Staying hopeful and being in good spirits was essential for her. She
believed that people with her disease have far more abilities than incapacities
(375-376). Summitt was an incredible person who didn’t let anything stand in
her way, not even a disease that started to take over not only her brain and
life. This is yet another way in which Pat showed determination. She let
nothing stand in her way and she continued to put her players in front of her.

Obviously, Summitt couldn’t coach forever. After coaching one
season with Alzheimer’s, it eventually took her coaching career away from her. Summitt
retired in 2012. She ended her career with an endless amount of records and
awards. She ended with 1,098 career wins which is the most wins in NCAA D1 history,
men or women. Summitt was an eight-time NCAA champion, most ever in women’s basketball.
Her unique coaching style and outstanding records led her to be a seven-time
NCAA coach of the year. All in all, she was inducted into 5 hall of fames
(Summit and Jenkins 384). Pat was named Naismith basketball coach of the
century in 2000. That same year, she was inducted into the basketball hall of
fame.  Finally, she sent 12 players off
to the Olympics and 43 players on to pursue professional careers within the
game of basketball. 38 years of endless accomplishments and success make Pat
Summitt remembered and honored by people all over the world. Summitt never
cared about fame though, she was in to pass her love for the game on to others.
The game changed her and she wanted it to change others in the same way. As
stated before Summitt ended up ending her career with a 100% graduation rate
for her players which is outstanding. Nowadays, D1 sports can outweigh
academics but Pat didn’t allow that to happen with her teams at UT. (385) The
fact that Summitt could put all of the fame aside and continue to change the
lives of many through this sport makes her an exceptional woman.

 

 

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