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.
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):
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.