Since the death of former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt on Tuesday, former players, rival coaches, and even people the legendary coach just happened to meet once have been sharing their stories. But one of our favorites was shared while the coach was still alive. And it is one of our favorites because of Coach Summitt’s good-hearted reaction.
It was January of 2012. Coach Summitt had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease the previous May. In a few months she would step down from the job she held for 38 years to become Head Coach Emeritus. Summitt was the honored guest at a luncheon for supporters of Tennessee women's basketball, and her coaching staff started telling their favorite stories about their boss. At times, it had the feel of a roast. This video of then associate head coach Holly Warlick comes to us courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
“I had a senior moment.”
Alzheimer’s Disease is dreadful and dreaded. It is no less than the loss of self. Pat’s Summitt’s punchline to her colleague’s story – “I had a senior moment” – spits in the eye of the cruel affliction with which she had been diagnosed.
Summitt’s career and life were cut short by Alzheimer’s, but for as long as she could do it, she continued to support and encourage the women playing basketball at Tennessee. It was, she said, her passion.
That passion and the energy with which Pat Summitt pursued it built the game to which she devoted herself. Her most successful rival, UConn Women’s Coach Geno Auriemma, said this week of Summitt, “Lots of people coach the game, but very few people get to define the game.” But Pat Summitt didn’t just define women’s college basketball. She grabbed it by the ears and hauled it into prominence. She was so successful that at one point she was asked whether she’d like to coach the men’s team at Tennessee. Her perspective was such that she asked whether that was supposed to constitute a step up.
It would be silly to say that if it hadn’t been for Pat Summitt, women’s basketball wouldn’t have achieved the popularity it has achieved. Lots and lots of talented athletes and ambitious coaches would have made sure that happened if Pat Summitt had decided to become something other than a coach – a fiery preacher, perhaps. But it would be sillier not to credit Summitt with energizing the entire sport.
That she and her family had to endure the terrible and terrifying circumstances associated with Alzheimer’s disease is beyond sad. That she managed a positive attitude and sense of humor through her decline is inspiring. That’s an adjective perhaps too often applied to athletes and coaches, but in Pat Summitt’s case, it’s a perfect fit.
This segment aired on July 2, 2016.