On Tuesday, legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt passed away at the age of 64 after a five-year battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Pat Summitt’s greatness transcends gender: she is the most victorious coach in college basketball, men’s or women’s. She finished her career in 2012 with 1,098 total wins (and a .913 winning percentage) and was the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols for 38 years. She led the team to 22 Final Four appearances, 8 National Championships, and 112 NCAA tournament victories. Every one of the 161 players coached by Summitt graduated, a perfect graduation rate that is unparalleled by any other coach in any sport. When asked what statistic she was most proud of, Coach Summitt always answered “161.”
But her effect on women’s sports and the fight for gender equality outshines even those impressive records. When Summitt began coaching at UT in 1970, she earned $250 a month. She did the players’ laundry after the games, and she drove the team van to games, because she knew that if she didn’t, no one else would. She demanded excellence, and she produced it. She drove her teams and her sports to unprecedented success. And she fought tirelessly for equality, by refusing to accept anything less. She famously declined the chance to coach a men’s basketball team saying, “Why, is that considered a step up?”
President Obama summed up Coach Summitt’s role as pioneer for women in sports: “Well before Title IX was taken seriously, well before there were record ratings for women’s sports on TV, well before there was the dominance of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team or the sold-out crowds at the NCAA Women’s Final Four or the glorious rivalry of Tennessee-UConn, there was Pat Summitt.”
CWLC honors Coach Summitt’s legacy, and continues its fight for equality for girls in athletics.