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.