Pat Summitt’s Celebration of Life
On Thursday, Pat Summitt’s Celebration of Life was held at Thompson-Boling Arena for former players, coaches, and fans to pay their respects to the person who put Tennessee women’s basketball on the map. There were several thousand spectators that came to honor Summitt in the arena she built complete with a court named after her.
The stage was set with all eight of the Lady Vols’ national championship trophies along with a stool and whistle used by Summitt. On the stage to speak throughout the celebration was Summitt’s son Tyler, former player Tamika Catchings, current coach Holly Warlick, and recently retired NFL quarterback and former Tennessee football star Peyton Manning among others.
Thursday’s events brought former players, state politicians, and fellow coaches to Tennessee. Catchings, Kellie Jolly Harper, Kara Lawson, Shelly Sexton Collier, and Candace Parker were among the former players that made their way back to Knoxville. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker could be found in Thompson-Boling Arena. Along with a star-studded list of women’s basketball coaches that included Summitt’s greatest rival, Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer, Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, former Texas coach Jody Conradt and former Georgia coach Andy Landers and many more.
Also in attendance were current SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, former SEC commissioners Mike Slive and Roy Kramer, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe and former Tennessee football coaches Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors.
Pat Summitt’s Celebration of Life consisted of many stories that spoke to the person Summitt was and you could tell from the emotions of the list of speakers that Summitt touched each of their lives.
Sexton-Collier, point guard on Tennessee’s first National Championship team in 1987 and Catchings, who won a championship with Summitt in 1998, spoke on behalf of Summitt’s players. They wrapped up their remarkers asking all of the Lady Vols in the crowd to stand and be recognized as her legacy. Each player that stood left Tennessee with a college degree under Summitt’s guidance. The crowd gave the players a standing ovation.
Long time assistant coaches Warlick and DeMoss shared stories from a career on the road with Summitt. Warlick talked about Summitt’s need for speed and talking her way out of speeding tickets with Lady Vol memorabilia and got the crowd to sing “Rocky Top” one last time for Summitt. DeMoss reminiscenced of Summitt being recognized by a table in a Florida restaurant, but not for being the winningest coach in basketball. “You look familiar,” DeMoss recalled the group saying. “Do you work at Ace Hardware?”
Summitt did so much for women in general, both women’s basketball and women’s sports, and for college athletics and the University of Tennessee. Yet when you pause to look at her life on a deeper level past the championships, banners, and trophies you’ll find that her life’s work was helping young women become the best human beings they could be.
DeMoss summed it up beautifully. She said, “the real accomplishment of Pat’s life is this – – you won 1,098 games and eight national championships, and what people talk about in the end is it’s not about how much you win but how much you did for others.”
Pat Summitt can rest in peace knowing her legacy lives on in the young girls she taught to be women, the colleagues she pushed to meet her standard, and the fans she touched not only in Tennessee but across the country.
About the Author:
Caroline Starr is a former Division I basketball player and a Division II basketball coach as well as a life long basketball fan. Her hope is that someday her words provide future college student-athletes little nuggets of knowledge to help them through their college athletics journey.