“Whatever it is that you desire to do in life, have the courage and the commitment to do it, and to do it to your absolute best.” -Pat Summitt
I lost one of my heroes recently in the death of Pat Head Summitt. I was born and raised in Tennessee, and went to the University of Tennessee where she coached, which would naturally make me a fan. However, the main reason Coach Summitt was so special to me is because through her I found what I admired most in my late father.
My dad was the star of his high school basketball team in Kentucky, but because of his service in the Korean War he missed the opportunity to try out for his beloved Kentucky Wildcats. He was able to attend the University of Kentucky after the military and watched the Big Blue play basketball from then until the end of his life.
I wasn’t as interested in basketball growing up, but I was fascinated by my father’s love of the game. Dad poured the concrete himself to create a small basketball court in our backyard, where I learned the fundamentals of H.O.R.S.E. He attended high school tournaments in Nashville, even when he had no kids in high school, and hung an NCAA tournament grid on the kitchen wall every year.
Dad also watched Coach Summit. I was introduced to the University of Tennessee Lady Vols as a young girl because Dad refused to turn the channel. Of all the basketball games we had to endure him watching, those involving the Lady Vols made the biggest impression on me. That’s because my tough, athletic, military dad was as interested in girls playing as the boys. He never complained that women were slow or didn’t dunk, and he considered Coach Summitt one of the best in the game years before any sports analysts said the same. Coming from a man who went to the UK when Coach Adolph Rupp was at the helm, my father’s accolades of any other coach— let alone a woman—was a huge compliment.
Through Dad and Coach Summitt, I learned one of the most important lessons in my life: it doesn’t matter who is playing in a game, as long as they are playing the game. To be a true fan of a sport is to encourage others to take part, and anyone who makes fun of any player for participating is not a real fan. Even though I am not an athlete, I have taken the message with me throughout my life that as a woman I am good enough and worthy to compete.
You have seen the impressive records of Coach Summitt, but I think the most important thing she accomplished was actually leveling the playing field, not just basketball but every playing field. She helped women learn not to be ashamed to sweat, be aggressive, and steal the ball. She taught us to argue calls that weren’t fair and deflect passes that aren’t in our best interest, and how to rebound when someone else can’t make the shot. As players in the Game of Life, women are every bit as important as the guys, and I was lucky enough to be the daughter of a man who understood that.
Thanks, Coach, and I hope you and Dad now get to shoot some baskets together.
Article originally published in Georgia Voice.