Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s’

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.

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Backing Pat and Other Random Thoughts From Early in the WCBB Season.

December 14, 2011

I’m a hoops junkie.  March is my birthday-Christmas-any celebration you want to name with an extended dance version track.  I live stream games on the phone, stay up until all hours of the night watching Cinderella’s try to win a game and seeing how making the tourney for some schools is just as (if not as exciting) as reaching the Final Four for major powerhouses.

Last season, Gary Blair led Texas A&M to the Aggies first national title. It really was a joyous event for WCBB junkies.  Blair served as an assistant in the vaulted program at Louisiana Tech for many years before becoming the head coach at Arkansas and then Texas A&M.  It was a great ending to a sport that has been dominated by 2-3 programs for a long time.  And to see Blair, who opted to remain coaching “girls sports” in Texas reach the pinnacle of his profession carried over into the off season.

And then the unthinkable happened.  Pat Summit announced she had early onset dementia/Alzheimer type.  Pat Summit: one of the iconic figures of women’s athletics.  Hell, she rehabbed from a torn ACL when that was a career ending injury while coaching the new University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer basketball program.  Over the years she has an obscene winning record, a 100% graduation rate for those who have stayed 4 years (and next semester she will sport 3 graduate students on her roster, Lady Vols just don’t graduate, they graduate early), every class has been to the Final Four since the NCAA started sponsoring a tournament, and all but 3 classes have won a national title. Mind boggling.  Yes, UNC Soccer, Penn State Volley Ball and UConn have had longer winning streaks and more national titles.

But Pat is more than that: she built a program in the infancy of Title IX to a consistent national power. In the heart of football country, in a state where basketball is rarely on the radar screen, she convinced people to become fans of the game: not just her program.  This past weekend, I was at Madison Square Garden for the Maggie Dixon Classic.  I sat next to a group of people from Vermont who came specifically to see the UT Lady Vols.  I asked if they had ties to UT: they’d never been to Knoxville but are fans of Summit and what she has done to raise the visibility of women’s athletics.  As I waited for my train back to Boston, there was a noticeable amount of UT orange in the waiting room.  We all started re-hashing the game: I was the only one who had ever been to Thompson-Boiling arena to see a game.  When I mentioned my parents had season tickets, it was like I said I had seats a Lambeau field.  There were UConn fans who felt the need to go and cheer for Pat despite the unfortunate ending that series had, people who simply knew how much she did along with a handful of others to make Title IX work.

One of the issues I’ve had with the LV program over the years is the public criticism of the players.  I prefer Geno’s closed practices, limiting his players from public scrutiny (and truth be told, I like his sense of humor a bit better, even though I’ll always root for the Lady Vols first!) as much as possible.  Both pushed each other into making better programs.  Both coaches, along with Leon Barrymore, C. Vivian Stringer, Tara Vanderveer and Jim Foster built programs when graduation meant the end playing the sport.

So I stood there on Sunday, watching Pat Summit, receive one of the dozens of accolades she will probably pick up this year about speaking up.  I’m a sap: I had tears in my eyes.  When Kim Mulkey and Brittney Griner took time to give her a hug, in the middle of the basketball game, when Sue Wicks

reminded everybody present that Pat Summit was one of the reasons so many women, both athletes and non-athletes can reach the pinnacle of a given profession, I realized how lucky I’ve been to watch the Lady Vols for over 20 years, every season, in and out.  I still think Geno’s way funnier.  But Pat? I think she put the first crack in Hillary’s glass ceiling.

Last night as the Lady Vols played their annual game against Rutgers, I received a text from my mom saying the standing ovation for Pat was well over a minute. At the RAC. When I saw my twitter feed light up with comments from the ESPN announcers and other individuals present about the standing ovation, when I heard about the Rutgers team selling bracelets for the Pat Summit foundation, after the Baylor team wore purple to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and Carson-Newman wore the We Back Pat shirts during an exhibition game, I thought about how one person could make an impact.  In 1974, women’s athletics was an afterthought in the college sport scene: now the Final Four, Frozen Four and championships in soccer and volleyball routinely sell out.  How women’s athletics is not an afterthought: how rivalries exist and how Title IX needed just as many coaches who knew young women could be as competitive as young men.

And I thought about Pat: who has really been there since the start, who has seen the evolution of women in athletics.  And I bawled: because after a life time of shaping and molding a generation of players, coaches and young women, she deserved to retire when she wanted to and enjoy the fruits of her labors.  And that how even if you have everything money can buy, sometimes, that’s just not enough.

It’s only a few months into the season, already the sport is mourning the loss of 2 coaches in a plane crash, too many ACLs to count and realizing that one of the leaders of women’s athletics is facing the battle of her life.  But the lining is that this is all news: 40 years ago, it probably wouldn’t have even made a mention in the local paper.

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.