By Merle Exit
The sports world was shocked late last month when former Tennessee women’s baketball coach Pat Summitt lost her battle with Alzheimer’s at the age of 64.
Many people have expressed their feelings on the loss of Summitt and what her legacy meant to not only women’s basketball, but sports as a whole. Queens College women’s hoops legends Gail Marquis, Lucille Kyvallos and Donna Orender are the latest to share their memories of the one-of-a-kind coach.
Marquis, a two-time All-American at Queens College, and Summitt were teammates on the first USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team in 1976. Summitt was the team’s co-captain at the time and while she wasn’t the most dominant player on the court, she was certainly the most determined.
“She wasn’t the best player on the team, but she was the grittest,” Marquis said. “Pat was a talker. A lot of chatter. Sometimes she would pull the tail of my T-shirt and without looking at me, just say a few encouraging words or give a bit of direction on how to handle a drill or option on a play.”
Kyvallos built her legacy at Queens College, but also has ties to USA Basketball, coaching the 1977 team at the World University Games.
Although Summitt was not part of that squad, Kyvallos was quick to point out that her impact on the game, even then, was undeniable.
“(She) was a formidable figure in women’s collegiate basketball,” Kyvallos said. “Among her hallmarks were the tenacious defensive systems she employed with her teams which served as models for other programs. It is sad to lose such a stellar coaching figure as Pat Summitt at such a young age.”
Orender echoed the sentiment, citing Summitt’s presence on the sidelines as paving the way for future female athletes.
“Coach Summitt set the bar high both on the court and in life,” she said. “Hers is a forever legacy where her wins will always be measured in the hearts of those she has touched and inspired. Her reach is wide and deep, and that is what made her so special. It is an honor to have known her, to have been encouraged by her and to have watched her work!”
Summitt’s coaching legacy is almost incalculable, but the numbers are still as impressive as ever.
She led the Lady Vols to 1,098 victories—the most in Division I college basketball history, either men’s or women’s—before retiring in 2012. Summitt won eight national titles in her 38 seasons with the program and was named NCAA Coach of the Year seven times.
In addition to coaching at Tennessee, Summitt coached the U.S. National Team to gold at the 1984 Olympic Games and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Summitt’s impact on the game is unquestionable, her determination, her competitive edge influencing athletes – both male and female. Even in Queens, some 700 miles from Tennessee, Summitt’s influence, and her loss, are keenly felt.
“The legacy of Pat Summitt will no doubt include the wins and eight national titles,” Marquis said. “Her legacy is the 161 student athletes that played and graduated with degrees and are now in the world as players, coaches, and women contributing to the world.”