A Terrible Day on Rocky Top

A few years ago, we had season tickets at Neyland Stadium–the University of Tennessee’s legendary (and gargantuan) football stadium in Knoxville. Before they added on the upper deck across the south end, you could see the Smoky Mountains in the distance and the Tennessee River just a few steps away.

Our seats were under the press box on the upper deck. As we exited the stadium down long ramps, we converged on the crowd coming out of the lower deck. One afternoon I remember inching my way down and then coming to a complete stop.

People were moving aside to make way for someone. A tall woman with a sleeping boy on her shoulder strode into view and down toward the exit. The crowd parted like the Red Sea.

It was women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.

Pat Summitt has won more NCAA Division 1 basketball games than any other college coach. Period. Not more women’s games. More games period. More than Bobby Knight or Mike Krzyzewski. More than anyone. She’s in every basketball hall of fame there is. The basketball floor at UT bears her name.

Today she announced that she has early onset dementia–Alzheimer’s disease–at age 59.

Sally Jenkins, a wonderful friend of Pat’s and outstanding journalist, tells the story far better than I can in today’s Washington Post.

It’s tough news to absorb, and it will be a topic of discussion all season long. No doubt it will distract the team and the assistant coaches who will be assuming more responsibility.

College sports have had a bad run of luck lately. Tennessee has had it own share of problems with the NCAA (though none with women’s basketball). Scandal knocked Ohio State off its lofty perch earlier this year and just a few nights ago 40 members of the LSU football team were invovled in brawl outside a bar at 2 a.m.

But you could always rely on Pat. Her girls did the right thing–they went to class…they graduated…they helped others.

Oh–and they won. Eight national championships at the last count.

Here’s to Coach Summitt winning number nine.

11 Comments

Filed under Sports

11 responses to “A Terrible Day on Rocky Top

  1. I read the article. If diagnosis of Alzheiner’s is based on counting backwards from 100 in 7s, and knowing today’s date, then I have it.

    I know nothing about this woman or her sport, but from the article, she seems like a sound role model, both for her athletes and for people facing up to unwelcome news.

  2. Julie Payne

    When I was being recruited to come swim at UT, I will never forget how she was so involved in the recruiting process for swimming – she wrote letters to each recruit, came to meet us when we were there on our recruiting trip and she made you feel a part of the entire Lady Vols team. She is such a class act.

  3. cindy has a great article but also read the one in the Washington Post that is referenced in her article.

  4. Karen

    Stunning news. Good for Patfor her courage an willingness to be public about her diagnosis, and kudos to UT for working with her to allow her to stay on as coach.

  5. Julie

    From what I’ve read in the paper this morning, one of the greatest things this lady has accomplished is the creation of many fine young women. Her athletes “do right” on the court and off. Oh yes, and one fine young man, her son, that sleeping little boy she was carrying the day you saw her.

  6. PG–if there’s one good thing about this it’s that Alzheimer’s now has a strong advocate and voice.
    JP–I remember reading that she is a big force in recruiting in all sports up there, even football. Do you still have that letter?
    Thanks, Mom!
    Karen–Stunning is a good way to describe it. Gobsmacked is another.
    Julie–You’re right on all counts. (as usual) :)

  7. I don’t know anything about her, but your writing about her has given me goose bumps.

  8. Sarah

    I was crushed when I heard about this yesterday. I have admired her for years.

  9. absolutely heart-breaking. she represents what college athletics should be… and taking this on publicly will do much for awareness… thanks for the links.

  10. Tulip

    If only Pat Summitt could coach football at UT, or be the athletic director, or heck, those things AND coach the women’s team. A class act – and what a great article you wrote, and the Washington Post article, too.
    And I’m so glad you’re back! I haven’t been checking, and was so excited to see you’re back. !!

  11. Ellie–that’s about the nicest thing you could possibly say. Thanks.
    Sarah–me too. She’s truly inspirational, and I don’t say that often.
    DF–college athletics is broken for sure. I think Pat could fix it, but I don’t know if she has time.
    Tulip–I’m trying to get back to regular posting–please keep checking up on me!

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