Posts Tagged ‘Lady Vols’

What I’ve learned in 33 days

March 9, 2014

It has been a month. A month? Really? It feels like yesterday. It seems like a decade. At various times in my life as a corporate drone, I’ve heard “this is going to get worse (name of issue) before it gets better”. I hope this gets better. I’m making a list; partially as a gentle nod to my mom and mostly so I can remember. In no particular order:

1) Sadly, I have family and friends who have lost their parent(s) too early, too quickly, and/or without warning. I need to remember when they say “I get it”: they do. They may not get the complexity of a relationship but they get the watching Law and Order at 12:43 am while writing a blog post.
2) This sucks. It sucks because even in the hardest, most complex times of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, I knew, somewhere, that if I needed shelter, she would have welcomed me (and the cat collection) home.
3) I have wonderful, amazing, beautiful friends. I have people in my life who I have known since Girl Scout days who have made sure I’m ok. I have college classmates who reached out and continue to make sure I am ok. I have friend who DESPITE bad news checked in and kept checking in (person who turned me on to half marathons and your spouse, I’m looking right at you).
4) I struggle with the mitzvah’s. From the randomly strange to the sublime love (the asking if I needed a peanut butter sandwich as I tried to get back to Knoxville, to the making sure I had cash, to a pet sitter cleaning my home, to a friend spending 3 hours helping me remove 3 FEET of snow from my car, to the TSA guy helping me get through security), I have no idea to how to repay the kindness.
5) The pain, I am told, is a good pain. It shows the love. Ok, whatever. File that under one day I’ll understand.
6) As painful as this is for me, my grandmother buried a child, my father buried his wife. It must be worse for them. No matter the age, even I get that your child dying before you must tear you in a way that makes no sense.
7) I am lucky/blessed/grateful for my friends. The ones that just sent random insane texts to try to make me laugh, the ones who understood when I said “I can’t talk”, the one who listened to me babble for an HOUR while stuck in rush hour.
8) There are people who came out of the woodwork to show their love and support. There are people who never acknowledged my mother’s death who I thought “would always be there”. Both surprised me; one day, maybe I’ll let go of the anger regarding the second part.
9) My paternal cousins. You’ve been there. You know where we are. You’ve called, e-mailed, texted, Facebooked and poured wine into a glass.
10) I’m learning what is important. No crazy changes for a year: but I’m learning.

Next week March Madness starts. As crazy as my mom was for college football, she loved basketball. She’d call me: Are you watching Boise State vs Alaska-Fairbanks? (um, no). You need to be a student of the game! I’d laugh. I like my teams. She loved the sport. I’m flying back to Knoxville and will be attending the women’s Final Four in Nashville. In my fairy tale ending, it’s The Ohio State University vs University of Tennessee and it goes to 5 overtimes (I don’t care who wins). Or Uconn (then it better be UT) – my mom liked the program Geno runs in Storrs. I know sitting next to my dad will be hard: my parent’s and I would met for the Final Four in various locations even when things were hard in our relationship and have a good time. I know my Dad and I will have a good time. I know we will have a hard time. And I know we will have a good time.
This month has been hard. I completed my second half-marathon. I feel myself un-numbing from the death of my mother. I’m trying to remember the advice somebody gave me: one good step at a time.

Julie #Hermann: Not Just A #Rutgers Issue (I’m Looking at You #Tennessee)

May 27, 2013

I follow the University of Tennessee Lady Vol Athletic programs. I started following them the way of many non-alum by way of their program flagship for women’s athletics, the basketball program which until this year had been coached under the legendary Pat Head Summitt.

I am not sure where the line is on Hermann and saying 1996 was a different ‘era’ (it has been 17 years) as far as how players expect (yes, I wrote expect) to be treated.  In the article published in the NJ Star-Ledger, the paper reports on a letter delivered to Joan Cronan (then the AD for the women’s athletics department, Tennessee merged their programs less than 5 years ago) which The Star-Ledger summarized as:

“Their accounts depict a coach who thought nothing of demeaning them, who would ridicule and laugh at them over their weight and their performances, sometimes forcing players to do 100 sideline push ups during games, who punished them after losses by making them wear their workout clothes inside out in public or not allowing them to shower or eat, and who pitted them against one another, cutting down particular players with the whole team watching, and through gossip.”

The letter was given to Cronan in the spring of 1997.  1997 is a critical year in the time line: the basketball team had just completed their second title run during which the team had 10 losses.  HBO would run a documentary called A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back. The promotional information from DCTV?

“Winners of the 1996 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers seemed poised to contend for the trophy again. But halfway through the 1997 season, the team were not living up to their promise. They were losing almost every important game of the season. Injury to a star player, Kellie Jolly, didn’t help. It seemed that even the remarkable efforts of Chamique Holdsclaw would not keep the team from falling apart. Could this team really win again?

A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back follows the legendary Lady Vols for an entire season, from 6:00 am torture runs to inside the locker room, from the bench during games to bus rides, broken bones, and broken hearts. You will feel like a member of the team as they turn tears into triumph at the 1997 NCAA Championship.

The film also captures the intensity and drive of Pat Summitt, the Tennessee coach, as she molds her team into winners.”

In her second book, Pat Summitt states, Raise the Roof, Pat Summitt writes “Anybody who had gone through our 29-10 season had run miles and miles of wind sprints” (page 32).  The 29-10 season? The 1996-1997 academic year. Later in the same book, Summitt discusses the relationship with the off guard in the 1997-98 team which would win a third consecutive national title “You’re being selfish and stubborn.  You are acting like a brat.  Is that who you really are?” (page 168).  Summitt states this was offered as a challenge to then freshman Semeka Randall.  Name calling a player by a high profile coach, later acknowledged in a published book: zero consequences.

There is more from the same book:

To LaSonda Stephens in an open practice “You need to grow your little ass up”.  (page 196)

Bringing a copy of an unflattering newspaper article to Semeka Randall for her to read.  (page 208)

From Pat Summit’s first book, Reach for the Summitt:

“I saw the spot on the wall where I had thrown a cup of water in frustration with my center, Abby Conklin.” (page 4) in the presence of Conklin and the coaching staff (page 16).

Making a team practice in un-washed game day uniforms (page 107-108).

Notice a pattern here? The difference, of course, is that Pat Summitt’s players didn’t revolt.  The stories in and around the Lady Vols program around Pat Summitt are legendary.  For many years, Pat Summitt was considered THE coach in women’s athletics.  A young volleyball coach arrives to Knoxville and bears witness to behaviors which has created a beloved coach and a winning program.

Fast forward 20 or so years, where are the criticisms for the University of Tennessee for not investigating (remember, Hermann quit coaching and became an administrator at Tennessee) now? The outcry in Knoxville is a bit alarming.  Yes, Summitt stepped down due to early onset Alzheimer’s but her behavior of disrespect to players was openly accepted.  And Hermann’s replacement? 4 transfers this year under heavy questioning over verbal abuse of players.

I don’t know where the line is; I do know this.  I don’t believe for one second Hermann forgot all of the incidents (maybe some of the finer details) but her behavior on the Knoxville campus mirrored the documented behavior of the iconic basketball coach that continued after Hermann’s departure from the Knoxville campus.

Where is the line in the sand? And why is only one former coach being criticized?

Chance encounter

March 27, 2012

Fourteen or so years ago, my brother and I cut across a parking lot by Thompson-Boiling Arena on the way to a Tennessee/Notre Dame football game. We wove among tailgaters talking about our mom’s cancer having come back, trying to make sorts of the crushing news and the next thing I knew my brother was sprawled (and I do mean sprawled) out on the ground having been taken out by a kid. I looked at the kid to make sure he was ok, smirked at my brother and in with in a second was paralyzed by fright. A voice said something like this “Tyler, I’ve told you a hundred times”. I REALLY made sure the kid, one Tyler Summitt, was ok. The last thing I needed in my life was my brother harming the prince of East Tennessee. Everybody knew Tyler, everybody knew Pat and now my brother was sprawled out on a parking lot having taken out a kid. Great.

The first thing Pat Summitt did was make sure my brother was ok. | stood there stunned. Pat made Tyler apologize, then she apologized and we parted ways. As we walked away, I looked at my brother and said you had better be grateful you didn’t harm Tyler Summitt.

Since I went to my first UT game in 1988 until last year, one thing was the same. Pat would prowl the sidelines, barking at her team, the officials, Smokey and just about everybody at TBA. This year has been nothing short of painful. Every game, every venue opposing fans would pay tribute. Reporters from major outlets have talked about how Pat Summitt single handedly changed the perception of women’s athletics (with a major assist from Title IX). As clearly as I can see the fantastic title game in Kansas City, I can see the painful losses – the national title game in Philly where they carried Geno around … and the back door cuts after back door cuts. The loss in the 2001 regional semi final where I was so mad, I went out at got something good that was orange. A cat (really) – it’s how Jackson came into my life. He was almost named Pat – but I had a nephew Patrick and well, Jackson is a boy.

Pat Summitt has done it all in her sport: the first Olympic Captain for women’s basketball, 1098 career victories, more than one court named after her, legions of fans, a 100% graduation rate: last night 3 graduate students started for Tennessee. I turned the game off at half time. I couldn’t watch it anymore. Tennessee was going to lose. I couldn’t see through my tears. This wasn’t the most talented team – Baylor deserved the win. I wanted a fairy tale ending. I wanted one more title.

The answer is that this is the legacy of Pat: more teams are more competitive than at any other time in women’s basketball. Stanford, Baylor, UConn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, LSU, Georgia all have or are building in the case of Kentucky, deep basketball traditions. Women in sports are becoming more the norm: I work with a former DI hockey player. My niece is a fantastic ball player. A daughter of a friend is on a traveling volleyball team. There were other programs that embraced Title IX (Anson Dorrance at UNC leaps to mind with soccer) but basketball is a sport that most individuals will probably play (from H-O-R-S-E to competitive) at some point during their lives.

I watched the clips from Holly Warlick and Kim Mulkey today. Both were fraught with emotion and near tears. At some point, Pat will step down. Probably this off season. It hurts. Alzheimer’s is an ugly, brutal disease that does nothing but rob people.

As I’ve thought about how much this feels painful, I remember that crisp October afternoon. A chance encounter with an iconic figure. And oh, how she will be missed.

If only there were fairy tale endings

February 12, 2012

I love March Madness.  For most of the month, I’m transported into a land where David’s beat Goliath, where crazy shots win the games and, where, at the end, many players will have played a game competitively for the last time and the tears you see are real tears of realizing that this was the last time you would get to do something you would love.  This year, I have a hunch it will be the last time we see Pat Summit prowl the lines as the legendary coach of the Lady Volunteers.  If there is a fairy tale ending, for Pat, UT would cut down the nets in Denver.  The reality is that it won’t happen: and oh, I wish I was wrong.  I was in the stands in Kansas City (I can still see that in-freaking-sane 3 point shot by Kellie Jolly).  I was there in Knoxville, Boston, Philly, Palo Alto, New Orleans when they didn’t cut down the nets.  I court side in Tampa and grabbed my ACL repaired knee when Vikki Baugh hurt hers.

It doesn’t matter where you in the stadium, when the Lady Vols play, you can hear Pat’s voice.  I’ve heard that distinticve Middle Tennessee twang all over the country as I’ve caught games when I could.  This year I saw the Lady Vols play at Madison Square Garden.

Maggie Dixon Classic

All season, long time assistant Holly Warlick has been running the huddles.  In an exceptionally perceptive, well written article, Dan Flesser examines the role that Warlick has tried to balance this year.  At the University of Tennessee, there is a saying “Vol For Life”: it comes out of the saying on the locker rooms that states “Today, I will give my all for Tennessee.”  Warlick was the first athlete – male or female – to have her jersey retired.  She was one of the first basketball All-Americans at UT, while attending on a track scholarship because basketball did not have enough.  Working without a contract, she is trying to balance something most of us cannot fathom.  Summitt isn’t just her boss, but a life long mentor and friend.  Warlick’s words were telling: she doesn’t know if Pat will be back next year.

These are the ways I want to remember Pat (bad fashion and all):

Leading Rocky Top at UT Men's Game

8th National Title

That is 3 in row!

Not always a fashion plate: always coaching

 (Even the serious fashion faux pas outfits!)

Coaching in the huddle

There will be some hard decisions to be made in Knoxville at the end of the season.  Sadly, I think it is time for Pat to step aside at the end of the season.  She’s given her all for Tennessee. She is a VFL.  And my fairy tale ending is this ending in number nine.  I know that won’t happen (Stanford!).  My only hope is that this can happen with grace and dignity for all parties involved.  This doesn’t have a happy ending.  One of the greatest coaches, one of the greatest women pioneers in athletics doesn’t get to ride off into the sunset.  May her legacy be the generations of women who embody Title IX and having the courage to publicly battle Alzheimer’s.

Oh, Right, College IS about Athletics

December 31, 2011

I admitt a more than a passing interest to collge football.  After the Penn State scandal, I’ve found my interest waning over the sport.  I still occasionally read on-line articles about the University of Tennessee Volunteers.  Earlier this week, a freshman wide receiver, DeAnthony Arnett, asked for an unconditional release from his scholarship to return to a school closer to home due to his father’s illness.  I don’t know the ins and outs but the comment section of the News Sentiel is lighting up on both sides of the argument.  Arnett went public with an open letter stating his reasons for wanting an unconditional release.  The letter states in part:

“My mom is in a finacial bond my father was forced to retire from his job at General Motors because of a Lung Diseas on Disability, so I started recieving social security checks for a monthly payment of 1100 a month. I was 14 years old when most of this occured so I was un able to recieve my own check until I turned 18 years old so she always controlled my money and she used that as part of her income. When I turned 18 years old the checks came in my name but my mom and I always shared the funds with her. When June came upon my graduation I  recieved a letter from the social security adminstration that my checks would be cut when I graduated so a 1100$ of income was taken from my mother household. She only attended one game this past season.

As this season went on I never was use to my parents not being at my games so it made the season a little harder for me but I still competed hard in my classes as my transcript grades from last semester were three B’s and C and I appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman this season working hard every weak to earn my playing time.”

UT is not the best school in Tennessee: the main campus is probably the 4th best in the state (private and public).  How did Arnett manage the grades he did? Better question: how did Arnett graduate from junior high, let alone high school? How did Arnett manage to qualify academically?  He may be a gifted wide receiver.  He may be a wonderful 19 year old kid.  Maybe I’m judging a book by its cover (or the standards of UT and other programs by one letter) but what on earth is going on in the public education system that allows spelling and grammar like the one Arnett wrote to be considered acceptable (as I am guessing this is close to his style of writing)? What happens to people like Arnett when the playing days are over and skills may not be there for the next level?

College athletics is a money making venture for  the schools.  It is fun for the alumni and students to attend games.  Make no bones about it: being a D-I college athlete is a full time job: to balance academics and athletics is nearly impossible (it is part of the reason the NCAA gives 5 years of scholarship dollars to complete a degree) which is why basketball programs like Duke, UT Lady Vols, the UConn women deserve a nod for very high graduation rates.  Not everybody who attends a university is going to come from equal academic backgrounds.  But the ability to write a basic (without glaring grammatical or spelling errors) letter to the editor of on a subject matter should be at the very least a requirement for graduation from high school.

Much has been debated (almost ad nauseum) about the rise of China, the slipping of the United States as an international power.  With an education system that allowed Arnett to graduate from high school and be admitted to a mid-ranked university with the writing skills he displayed is a national tragedy.  It’s time we put the money we spend on sports aside and use it towards education.  It is the very least we can do for a future.  While I hope Dooley grants the release, I also hope that Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State do not offer Arnett a scholarship: the kid simply doesn’t have the writing skills to compete at 2 of the top schools in the country in the classroom.

72 Ideas … Getting rid of the ‘big’ things

August 24, 2011

It’s funny how sometimes a random internet project of 72 ways to live simply transcends a long time passion.  Yesterday, Pat Summitt, the long time coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols announced she had early onset dementia  – Alzheimer’s type.  I found out the news from most people I know who follow the support in pretty rapid succession (including a Facebook message from my advisor at Hollins).  I was at work and I thought, really? Pat Summitt?  I mean, she is one of the reasons Title IX worked.  Title IX became law in 1972.  Pat Summitt became the head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974: as a full-time graduate student at UT.  Yup.  You read that right: she was the head coach at a time when the NCAA didn’t recognize the sport, when players split scholarships among sports (odd tid bit, long time UT assistant Holly Warlick one of the best point guards to play the game, was on a track scholarship at UT), when the coaches did the laundry, drove the van and took classes.  Summit wrote about how she knew she could demand equality for what the men’s program had but she asked for what she needed and built her program.

The list of accolades and accomplishments fills books: every player who has stayed for 4 years has graduated.  100% graduation rate in a 37 year career.  She won an Olympic medal in Montreal (she rehabed an ACL tear while coaching AND preparing for the Olympics) and she coached the US team to its first gold in Los Angeles.  She has more wins in the NCAA tourney (109) – no other school has appeared IN 100 games.  Yes, UConn, Baylor, and a few other programs might have been a bit better over the past few years.  But as John Wooden was to men’s hoops, Pat Summitt is to women’s athletics.

The SEC schools embraced women’s athletics: Alabama, Georgia compete routinely for national gymnastics titles, Florida, Georgia compete for swimming/diving titles, Arkansas dominates the cross-country circuit.  And when you think that 8 NCAA titles in 28 NCAA tourneys?  Only UNC women’s soccer is better in domination of a sport year in year out.

Pat could have coached a few more years and called it a career.  She didn’t.  She spoke up.  She spoke out.  She will raise awareness.  Women, young women and girls who have reaped the benefits of Title IX (and that would be all of us under 50) owe her a debt of gratitude.  She was one of the pioneers of women’s sports. She taught us that we can fight on the court like guys and not lose our “feminine” identity.

More than all accomplishments on the court, yesterday she did one of the most courageous acts a public figure could do: she made it known that she will lose what has made her great.  She let go a lot of the big things that hold many of us back: fear and shame.  The road ahead for Pat and her family will be hard, but in many ways much simpler.  She openly addressed her diagnosis.  Maybe UT won’t land as many blue chip recruits, maybe they will.  But hopefully the road for Pat and her family will be a bit easier knowing that the Knoxville community, the women’s basketball community and a host of fans will support her in any way possible.

Millions of families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or who have lost a person to the disease can find a sliver of hope in the increase in awareness this will bring.  And true to her years of teaching, Pat Summitt is facing head on and not letting the fear, the anger, the embarrassment quiet her.  May we all be so courageous.

You want to know what kind of fan I am?

March 26, 2011

Somebody made the mistake on a FB thread about saying (paraphrase) it’s hard to tell what kind of (sports) fan I am. Perhaps it’s because I still hear the amazing words of Taylor Mali and teachers, perhaps it’s because I see the NCAA as owners and some student athletes as over paid athletes (and before ANYBODY jumps down my throat, let me be clear: it’s a handful of athletes but every time I hear an athlete complain about “not being paid” and I’m writing a check to my student loan company, I think “you are being paid: in your education. Yes you are expected to balance sport and academics, but most of us balanced work, academics and still have loan payments that rival mortgages or rent).

And I knowingly tread into hostile waters over defending the dismissal of Bruce Pearl: he lied, the lied about lying and then he asked the student-athlete to lie about it.  In a Jimmy Swaggert “I have sinned” moment, he asked for forgiveness and called this a “lesson he has learned”. Let me be clear: Bruce Pearl is an adult: his son played for him at UT. I would hope that any college coach (or any adult) engaging in business practices (and that is recruiting) would follow basic ethics of their industry.

Look, I get that the NCAA has insane recruiting rules (can’t tweet but can respond? can only met on every other Thursday’s in months with A’s but never if it’s an odd-numbered month – ok, I made that one up) and you probably need 2 attorneys in the compliance office TO understand the rules.  AND at the same time, a high-profile coach is probably the single most recognizable face of the university.  Name somebody affiliated with Duke, University of Oklahoma, UConn, UT (Texas or Tennessee), USC, Ohio State, Nebraska: how many name coaches versus academics.

So, when I said it was right for Bruce Pearl to be dismissed (and I think Jim Tressel should be shown the same door), and got some snark back, I thought I’d give a longer answer. Here is what kind of fan I am:

1) I’m the type that shows up and roots for the underdog in early round actions and will watch the qualifying matches because that is where you can see people competing for the chance.  You know, the races where the runner or swimmer from some unknown country finishes next to last in a World Championship or Olympic Games and that is as triumphant as a medal.

2) I’m the type of fan who will root for a team who is dominant because their coach wins by 20 when s/he could win by 80 because that is a lesson.

3) I’m the type of fan who really can’t root against many teams (er, Duke aside) and I enjoy watching good games.

4) I’m the type of fan that will be critical of my team and give credit to the opponent.

5) I’m the type of fan who thinks there can be good losses, ugly wins.

6) I’m the type of fan who loves it when the coach puts in the “never play” athletes early on so another team isn’t embarrassed.

7) I’m the type of fan who will stay up until 2 to finish watching a game on the west coast.

8) I’m the type of fan who thinks that if a coach leaves, the players should get to leave without having to sit out for a year: I also think that a player should be allowed to transfer after their freshman or sophomore year without penalty. Maybe it is a program fit, a major or simply homesick.  Let them leave at the end of the year without penalty as underclass students.

9) I’m the type of fan who thinks coaches should criticize players behind closed doors. And I love my Lady Vols but I don’t see the point of letting people know when they are locked out of a locker room or calling out a specific member of a team in the press.  Did you know the UConn freshman were locked out? Probably not: one of their freshman guards let it slip. And Geno admitted it.

10) I’m the type of fan who thinks that college athletics is a part of the system. It excites the alum, the surrounding communities. And it shouldn’t define the university. In many states, the highest paid public employee is a coach: that is before the shoe contracts,tv contracts and all the other perks.  Because of this, I think the greatest lesson a university can show its students is, you break the rules in such a major way, we will show you the door. We don’t tolerate that here. Why? Because the university is not there for athletics. Sports are there for the university.

That’s what type of fan I am. Of course, I’m a Cubs fan so that makes me an idealist and a dreamer. And I think that when you stand up for doing what is right, you deliver the greatest message about sports and community. Winning isn’t the only thing: having the courage to compete is the most important thing.


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