Patricia Summitt is my hero, and a hero to many. That’s why I want the NCAA women’s college basketball championship trophy named after her.
When all the talk of basketball focused on men like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Dr. J, Pat Summitt was building the sport of women’s college basketball, practically from scratch.
When Pat Summitt took over the job of head coach at the University of Tennessee in 1974 -- at the age of 22 -- women’s college basketball was hardly a blip on the sports radar. It wasn’t officially recognized by the NCAA. It wasn’t considered an Olympic sport. And many women’s basketball programs had to struggle just to exist, getting nowhere near the resources that men’s college basketball programs received.
Pat Summitt changed all that. She fought to help institute Title IX at colleges around the United States, offering equal rights, equal numbers of sports, and equal scholarships for women’s athletics. She pushed to establish an NCAA basketball tournament for women, just like men had. And she co-captained the first ever U.S. women’s basketball Olympics team in 1976, and went on to coach the Olympics squad in 1984 (winning a gold medal).
At Tennessee, her record would cement her as the best coach ever in the sport of basketball, men’s or women’s. She has more victories than any basketball coach alive. She won eight NCAA championships. She has 18 Final Four appearances. She was so good that twice, the University of Tennessee asked her to coach the men’s team. She declined, and continued to build the Lady Vols into a powerhouse basketball team. In her time as coach, every single player who played for Pat Summitt graduated. Many went on to the WNBA. And at least 45 went on to coach basketball teams of their own.
Last year, Pat Summitt was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. She finished the 2011-2012 season, but then stepped down after 38 years as head coach, leaving behind one of the largest legacies in the world of sports. Pat Summitt isn’t giving up her fight, but her health has declined enough that she needed to stop coaching.
That’s why I want the NCAA to name the women’s college basketball Division I championship trophy after her. I can’t think of a greater honor than by naming the chief award in the entire sport after the person who helped make women’s college basketball into what it is today.
Pat Summitt made this little girl in Iowa want to go bigger. I wanted to play for her. I wanted to be her. She was a leader in giving me new role models, and I can't imagine that I am the only one. As women’s college basketball gets underway and the 2012-2013 season moves forward, let’s join together to ask the NCAA to honor Pat Summitt.
She may no longer be coaching. But she is still with us, and deserves this type of honor now.
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