In sports, fight for the rights of women

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Last updated: February 21, 2019

In 2012, Pat Summitt wasawarded the presidential medal of freedom by president Barack Obama. Pat wasalso named to “Sporting News’s”  list ofthe fifty greatest coaches                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           ofall time in 2009. She was the only woman to appear on the list (Summitt andJenkins 385). This proves that Pat was a leader in women’s sports and that shewas recognized by many. Pat had a huge impact on a wide varieties of people andshe changed women’s basketball forever. This information leads the readers toask: What qualities enabled Pat Summitt to be one of the most influentialwomen’s basketball coaches of all time? This question can be answered bydiscussing three main points.

Those would be her upbringing and personal life,her journey fighting for the rights of women playing basketball, and her legacyand remembrance. After these points are discussed, it makes it clear that PatSummitt’s determination, compassion, and dedication allowed her to earn respectfor women’s sports, fight for the rights of women playing basketball, andchange the lives of everyone she coached.             Summitt grew up on a farm in Clarksville, Tennessee. Shegrew up poor, and her family lived from crop to crop. Pat was a very hardworker on the farm, although her father did not give her much of a choice. Sheworked sun up to sun down every day.

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She had four siblings. She had three olderbrothers-Tommy, Charles, and Kenneth-and a younger sister, Linda (“PatSummitt,” Encyclopedia).  Sibling rivalry was very present betweenher brothers and her. They played basketball in the hayloft. Her brothers didnot take it easy on her either. This instilled competition into her at a veryyoung age (Summitt and Jenkins 1). Pat was impacted by many people, but mainlyby her father, Richard Head. Pat’s father was a six-foot five man who had avoice 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 hedid, he meant it (27). Richard didn’t do much to show support and encouragementtowards Pat. One way he did though, was his encouragement in his daughter’sobvious basketball talent. He supported her every move as a basketball playerand even into her coaching career. He was a very strict father and a physicallyviolent disciplinarian. He expected a lot from his kids.

Pat feared him butalso credited him for instilling drive and competitiveness in his children (“PatSummit”). Bring a farm kid her wholelife, Pat learned life skills such as determination and dedication that stuckwith her. Her father and brothers pushed her and made her work hard as a child.            Summitt’snever-ending success within the game of basketball started in high school. Patwas a stand out in her high school community. Pat attended Cheatham County allfour years of her high school career. She started all four of those years thatshe 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. Patstruggled at college when she first got there. She struggled to fit in, being afarm girl from Tennessee. She joined a sorority to help her make friends andfit in. It did indeed help her. She started to make friends and overcome hershyness (Summit and Jenkins 56-57).

When it came to basketball in college, Pathad a tough experience too. Her team built themselves from the ground up. Theyhad no funds for the team and no support from anyone on the campus or in thecommunity. Pat’s team did fundraisers, put on car washes, and got financialsupport 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 wastough for her, both in academics and basketball. But, showing her intensedetermination to succeed, she never gave up. Even though, the team struggled atfirst they persevered and accepted the challenge.

They were never givenanything, they earned it (63-64).  Patstill managed to leave UT at Martin as the all-time leading scorer with 1,045career points (384). Summitt’ssuccess as a player wasn’t over after college though. She even made an impactin the Olympics. She was co-captain of the U.

S women’s team in the 1976 Olympicgames in Montreal. She led the team, to win a silver medal. She also continuedher Olympic success on the coaching side of things. She was an assistant coachin the 1980 games.

She then emerged as head coach of the U.S Women’s team in1984. Summitt proceeded to lead the team to a gold medal. (“Pat Summitt”) Thisproves that Summitt had an impact on all parts of basketball. Summit wasdetermined to change women’s basketball and her fight to do this was justbeginning. Fightingfor 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. OnAugust 24,1976, women’s basketball changed forever and Pat Summitt had a bigrole in this incredible change. Summit assisted Victoria Cape, as her starwitness, 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 wasunfair. 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 shootand the guards would stay on the other side and were only allowed to playdefense. People saw high school girls playing basketball as “young flowers ofthe South” and thought that running down an eight-four-foot basketball courtwas too vigorous.

  Summitt argued incourt that not playing full-court was a mental and physical handicap and thatit caused women to miss out on college scholarship opportunities. She saidgirls in Tennessee were being “saddled” and were being held back from futureopportunities. The court case received full-media coverage and ended onNovember 24, 1976.

(Haltom) Summit’s dedication really came out when she wasseen on and in the court fighting for what she believed in. JudgeTaylor, a pervious athlete assigned to the case, ruled six-player, half-courtbasketball unconstitutional and stated that women would now be allowed to playfull-court basketball the way men played it. But, the TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association) deniedJudge 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 weregranted the right to play full-court basketball again. This time though, nobodycould deny it so it had to be enforced.

  Thiscase came to be the start of a new type of basketball in TN and Summitt had ahuge role in the success of it. The case that Pat Summitt lead is now referredto as the “full-court press”. (Haltom) This case remains one of Summitt’sbiggest successes. Compassion from Summitt came through and showed throughoutthis whole case while she demonstrated her care and concern for high schoolgirls playing the sport of basketball. She never stopped displaying her lovefor the sport and she did this in many different ways. This case is another wayto 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 ofthe 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 washer time to shine. Her team racked up NCAA titles in 1989, 1991, 1997, and 1998and this is how Summitt’s fame really grew. The Lady Vols had a run between1996-1998 that marked the first time any Women’s NCAA team won back-to-backchampionships. 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 mostsuccessful college basketball coaches of all time (“Pat Summitt”).

After theLady Vols started to playing outstanding basketball, fans started to come fromall around. Everyone wanted to see this extraordinary team play. People beganto want season tickets and wanted to donate to the team. Crowds of 6,000 filledthe 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 eventfulcoaching career.

She had lots of success when looking at her career from astatistic standpoint. But more importantly to her, she success came from theimpact she left on every player and their academic successes. Even though,Summitt had an incredible passion for the sport of basketball, she required herplayers to put a lot of their time into academics. When her career ended, shehad a 100% graduation rate on top of her 1,098 career wins. (8)  Summit’s success seemed like it was never going to end. Everyyear she continued to make a mark on women’s basketball. As a coach, she seemedunstoppable.

Eventually, something came up that did stop her. In 2011, Pat wasdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the progressive neurological illness that attacksthe brain, affecting ability to remember and reason. She began to draw blankswhile coaching, forget hang signals, had empty moments, and didn’t know what tosay. Summitt tried to deny the fact that she was becoming ill. She continued tocoach and tell people that she was fine. Finally, she took these signs andtraveled to Mayo Clinic with her son Tyler. The doctors diagnosed her and toldher 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 coachingdebut yet. Staying hopeful and being in good spirits was essential for her. Shebelieved that people with her disease have far more abilities than incapacities(375-376). Summitt was an incredible person who didn’t let anything stand inher way, not even a disease that started to take over not only her brain andlife. This is yet another way in which Pat showed determination. She letnothing stand in her way and she continued to put her players in front of her.

Obviously, Summitt couldn’t coach forever. After coaching oneseason with Alzheimer’s, it eventually took her coaching career away from her. Summittretired in 2012. She ended her career with an endless amount of records andawards. 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-timeNCAA 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 thecentury in 2000. That same year, she was inducted into the basketball hall offame.  Finally, she sent 12 players offto the Olympics and 43 players on to pursue professional careers within thegame of basketball. 38 years of endless accomplishments and success make PatSummitt remembered and honored by people all over the world.

Summitt nevercared 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. Asstated before Summitt ended up ending her career with a 100% graduation ratefor her players which is outstanding. Nowadays, D1 sports can outweighacademics but Pat didn’t allow that to happen with her teams at UT. (385) Thefact that Summitt could put all of the fame aside and continue to change thelives of many through this sport makes her an exceptional woman.   

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