Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

Peanut butter sandwiches and other strange things I’ve heard

March 23, 2014

I sat at my desk and tried to book a flight to Knoxville around two storms that were about to converge on the greater Boston area. A few co-workers were checking various options when it became apparent to everybody something horrifically had gone wrong. As tears streamed down my face, a friend said her mom died and we are trying to figure out the best way to avoid flight delays. One of the guys I work with looked at me, he’s about 24, and said I don’t know what to say. But I can make you a peanut butter sandwich because you might get hungry and not want to talk to anybody at the airport or something. I think I shook my head. I know I didn’t leave with a peanut butter sandwich.

I wish more people offer peanut butter sandwiches. Like anybody who has had a loss that isn’t quantifiable, dumb comments abound. I wish I could say “oh, they’ve never experienced the loss of a parent, spouse or somebody intrinsic to their life, they don’t understand the numbing feeling that fluctuates from time to time.” But when a 24 year old knew that he didn’t know what to say? I’m short on giving people a pass. Especially those who I know have had such a loss.
Most of these were met with blank looks or uh-huh comments. But if somebody reads this out in web-world, just think before you offer advice:

1) I said I was going to my parent’s the first part of next month. A co-worker corrected me. “You mean your Dad’s since your Mom is no longer with us.” (Ok, note, my mother NEVER MET THIS PERSON so she was never with ‘us’) Give me a break. My parents were a couple for over 50 years. This one is going to take a while. Sometimes, I can catch myself and say dad where I’d normally say parents. It’s hard: and it is like turning a screwdriver in my gut. If I’m low on energy, I let whatever form of nouns fly.

2) “Wow. Your mom’s death doesn’t seem to bother you that much. I’d be devastated.” COME AGAIN? Let me describe my time since I came back to Boston. Go to work. Go home. Sleep for a few hours. That’s it. I made it to church once. I did a half marathon once. This is the first weekend I’ve even attempted to make my place not look like an episode of hoarders. I’ve been known to cry my entire commute. But when I’m at work, I try get myself into auto-pilot. Why? It’s easier. I’m devastated. I went to text my mom about Dayton upsetting OSU on Friday and caught myself.

3) “Your mother wouldn’t want you to be/to do x.” Ok. Probably. My mother didn’t do mourning much. But she also understood that people are different. My mother would understand that I would understand that things upcoming on my calendar would cause trepidation. The Final Four in Nashville, my nephew’s high school graduation, going to New Orleans. Places and events that she should have been present (or would have had a few texts about) but won’t be. It will be hard.

4) “Rely on God and His Plan”. Ok, that just stands on its own: my mother and I had the same views on “God’s Plan”.

5) “It could be worse.” Your right. I could have lost a child. (Ok, I don’t have one). I could have caused the death of a child. Wait. Fuck that idea. Just take that statement and shove it. Or if your are going to be so damn moronic as to say it IN my presence, you had better not BITCH about one DAMN thing for a year.

I know people don’t know what to say at times: I’ve seen the panicked look on faces when I say the word “Mom”. I remember probably looking the same way at times. The entire process is hard: life moves on; the good, the bad and the ugly. The healing comes in phases. And it is revisited from time to time: that is the nature of the beast. It’s just the re-visiting is less painful (or so I’ve been told). I know I’m less numb. I can’t decide if that is “better” (I know in the long run it is – I also know that being less numb is also making me less tolerant of stupidity). I know I can hold conversations with my siblings and my dad without dissolving into tears which was not possible for the past few weeks.

Luckily, most of my friends have offered various forms of peanut butter sandwiches. I try to remember that when the advice columns start.

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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.

Yup. It’s the profile.

March 24, 2012

There was a moment where I became acutely aware of my internal racism. We all have it: others can and will wax more poetic about the self-realization. Walking down a sidewalk in Cape Town, South Africa, I found myself in a sea of black men. I was aware of my internal panic. And I caught myself: I was in South Africa. That momentary rise of panic…where I fell prey to the images that had been portrayed in my middle of America upbringing caught me.

I shrugged it off. And I was (probably) wearing a hoodie. I usually wear one: I have a few “work” hoodies (really) and head to the gym most mornings with a hoodie on instead of a coat. They are a uniform of sorts. As I type this, I’m wearing a hoodie. Not as a statement but as a Saturday evening watching hoops sort of thing (Ohio State hoodie: Ohio State game).

By tomorrow night, 4 teams will have punched their tickets to the Final Four: this will involve roughly 48 student-athletes. In 2009, 243 African American men were murdered between the ages of 12-30 in the state of California alone. It’s a genocide of sorts: I don’t use that term lightly. I’ll never know what it means to be a racial minority in this country (well, maybe but the power nexus is still Anglo). I can grasp what it means to be an under represented person. However, racial stereotypes are far greater, the gaps far wider than that of being a woman and at least where I live, being gay (it doesn’t make the intolerance any less acceptable).

It’s Lent: a period of time of reflection in the Christian community. For all the hate filled politics, the politics of changing the power structure in this country and it rattling the foundations of many, we need to take a collective breath. President Obama was correct: Trayvon Martin would be his son if he had one. By all accounts Martin was a good, normal kid who was murdered because of fear.

What disturbs me the most is the lack of an immediate outcry. The lack of a proper investigation. Following the story a bit this week, hearing people discuss having to talk to their children about what to expect when they are stopped by the police left me wondering. What have I done? Not enough. I haven’t spoken up enough when people make remarks on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. I haven’t said this is my line and you are over it enough.

I have 3 nephews: 5, 13 and 15. The middle one lives in his hoodies. It’s a sad commentary that I know he is safe wearing his hoodie because of his blue eyes, fair hair and freckles. All children should be safe: and nobody should have to have a conversation on how to avoid harassment from the police. We should be above this. The real tragedy will be when we don’t learn the lessons. This isn’t about confirming a fictional character to the Supreme Court: this is about a child murdered for merely being in the wrong place, wearing the wrong item of clothing.

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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.

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.

Father’s Day, the 2011 version

June 19, 2011

So, in my now twice in my life Happy Father’s Day blog, I’m going to skip my normal disdain for the day (well, more specifically all Hallmark holiday’s – and I just learned this one was created by NIXON!) and smile.

My dad (and mom) are in a mini-van (ring of hell #1) with 3 tweeners (ring of hell #2) going to the CWS (return to ring #1) after going to Carhenge and other “tourist sites in Nebraska” (enter rings #2, #3 and #4).  For fun.  The kids are good kids, I don’t understand my father’s love of long distance driving (30 minutes, I’m done) and who buys a mini-van by CHOICE?  But they are having fun being with the 3 oldest grandkids, the grandkids appear unharmed from the pictures and are being tortured at Denny’s (yes, I went there)-as-a-resturant that must come with the grandparent license and I can’t wait to hear all versions.

The past year has been hard – from all angles.  Unemployment, illnesses, strange weather and a list of things have taxed and pushed.  At one point last summer, my dad swore to me I’d look back on 2010 and laugh (I’m not sure I ever will but I see his point).  A college friend posted this article from The Atlantic MonthlyI thought about it and realized the greatest lesson my parents taught my siblings and me is that we will fail.

How did we learn this lesson? My dad is 6 5.  When we were little (read 4 and 5), we’d engage in a 2-1 basketball game against our dad.  He’d block our shots (ok, we were midgets, block is a loose term, all he had to do was put a hand over our heads, I maintain he was trying to pad his statistics).  He’d shoot HOOK SHOTS (we stood no chance).  We’d play until we made a basket purely by luck.  We thought we “won” (we scored on dad) but we really learned.  We learned that sometimes you have to try a lot before you make a basket, we learned that sometimes a game ended before we could score, we learned (in retrospect) that sometimes failing is the best thing.  Painful life lesson best learned on the backyard basketball court.

I’m a t-ball purist.  I’m not sure letting all kid receive an award is the best idea: I was the worst player on my team until my sister joined.  She picked flowers in the field.  We were bad, we had fun and the other kids had to put up with us (I’m sure it was painful for the 2nd graders. . . ).  I do know that learning how to fail and failure being ok if the effort was there is a valuable skill (and probably is somehow related to continued creativity and imagination).

Happy Father’s Day Dad.  You taught us it’s ok to love to do something we are bad at for fun, that sometimes you loose and you were always up for coloring our food.  Now, if we could do something about your Phanatical Jayhawk addition, all would be right with the world.