By James Summerlin, Sports Editor
The inevitable news came April 18 that Pat Summitt is stepping down as the Tennessee women’s basketball coach because of early-onset dementia. Her impact on the game resonates with fans around the nation, and her decision to step down saddens even the casual fan.
Her career started in 1974 at Tennessee when women’s basketball was not a sanctioned sport. She did not just put the University of Tennessee team on the map, but she made the sport important as well.
Summitt coached 38 seasons and won 1,098 games and eight NCAA titles in her coaching career.
She will forever be “the face” of women’s basketball. Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma gave remarks in a press conference that praised Summitt.
“Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did,” Auriemma said.
I covered Union’s exhibition with Tennessee last year. When Summitt walked into the arena, her presence changed the scene. I cheered when she arrived. Her eyes demanded respect but did not cast judgment. Her decision to tell the public she was diagnosed with dementia showed her fearlessness.
Few people will say a negative word about Summitt. She handled her business with class. She brought women’s basketball to the mainstream. College basketball will miss her greatly.