In the world of sports today, the worth of a person is often based on how many championships he or she has.
Tuesday night in Nashville, Tennessee, Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut completed another dominant season, winning the NCAA Championship and becoming the second team in NCAA women’s basketball history to go 40-0. Auriemma improved to 9-0 in title games, just behind the legendary John Wooden, who went 10-0.
More importantly in the women’s basketball world, however, UConn proved itself the most successful team in women’s basketball history, breaking the tie with Tennessee by winning an unprecedented ninth national championship.
The Huskies without hesitation, are the most successful team in women’s basketball history. Yet, despite Auriemma’s incredible reign at the helm of UConn women’s basketball, he has yet to take the throne as the best ever coach in women’s basketball.
And he never will because of a woman’s legacy who changed the course of women’s basketball forever and even more broadly, changed the way people think about women. That woman, of course, is Pat Summitt.
Before Summitt, women weren’t considered competitors, nevertheless athletes. Today, people take women’s sports seriously, which wasn’t the case before her. Women’s equality in sports has a long way to go, but even if you don’t watch the Final Four, you see women’s basketball as a sport.
She coached before and after Title IX, making $8,900 a year when she started at a school that wasn’t on the map in the basketball world. Summitt drove the bus and did the team laundry. The NCAA didn’t even recognize women’s basketball as an officially-sanctioned sport when Summitt took the head coaching job.
As a young coach, Summitt rooted her team in defense. Today, defense is one of the biggest focuses in the women’s game. To say Summitt didn’t play a part of that would be ignorant.
From a popularity standpoint, Summitt put people in the stands to watch females play. In fact, more people headed to the Lady Vols’ games than a game for the men’s team. Her team earned more exposure than the men too. If modern women’s sports had to say thank you to someone, Pat Summitt would be one of the people at the top of that list.
Women in all sports owe something to Summitt. Without her, there’s no path for Auriemma.
When Summitt stepped down in 2012, announcing early onset dementia as the cause, women’s basketball lost what Wooden called “the best coach in NCAA basketball history.”
Honestly, any writer could write a book simply on her accomplishments alone. In her 38 years as head coach of the Lady Vols, Summitt compiled 1,098 wins, the most in NCAA history in any sport male or female. Of the 161 athletes she coached, 94 are current coaches and 12 went on to become Olympians. And if that’s not enough for you, with her eight NCAA championships, she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century.
As a result, Summitt is argued by many to be the greatest college basketball coach of all time, and one of the best in any sport.
In a world where women were seen as inferior, she coached her athletes like men. There was no daintiness in practice, running them out of the gym. Those blue eyes could be daggers, but she always got the best out her athletes.
She created fantastic players, but worked even harder to make them good people, earning a 100 percent graduation rate. Summitt is a class act and it’s earned her respect nationwide. Ever since the diagnosis announcement, “We Back Pat” shirts have been seen on college campus all over the U.S.
The bottom line is that no matter what happens in the future, the women’s sports will owe great appreciation to Summitt. There’s a statue outside Tennessee’s gym of her and the court is named after her, all for a reason.
No one person has done more for one sport than Summitt and that’s something championships don’t show.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo courtesy of npr.org