Posts Tagged ‘March Madness’

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.

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.