Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, who was a pioneer of women's college basketball and Division 1's winningest coach, died on Tuesday at the age of 64, according to a statement from the Pat Summitt Foundation. Summitt ended her legendary career in women's sports in 2012, just a year after learning she had early onset Alzheimer's disease. For 38 seasons prior to that, the obit reads, she was "a friend, mentor, and loving mother" to 161 student athletes. Aside from her many awards, record-breaking wins, and two Olympic medals, this number — 161 Lady Vols — was the most important to her. Her son, Tyler Summit, said in a statement that his mother battled Alzheimer's with "fierce determination, just as she did with every opponent she ever faced." Summitt leaves an incredible legacy as a major figure in the history of women in sports. Here, we've rounded up five reasons that she was a legend.
She was tough as nails.
This was a woman who grew up as the only girl in a family with five children. According to The New York Times, Summitt "joined her three older brothers in baling hay and chopping tobacco. At night, she played basketball against her brothers and neighbors." She once dislocated her shoulder while shoving a raccoon off the deck of her home. She then spent two hours trying to reset the shoulder on her own before calling a doctor. When she went into labor while on a plane for a recruiting trip, she made the pilots fly her home, so her son could be born in Tennessee.
She has more wins than any other Division I college coach — male or female.When Summitt stepped down as coach of the University of Tennessee's Lady Volunteers in April 2012, she was 59 years old. She also had 38 seasons and 1,098 victories under her belt. Summitt led the Lady Volunteers to 22 Final Fours (18 NCAA, four AIAW) in her nearly four decades as coach. She coached the U.S. national team to gold at the 1984 Olympic Games. During her tenure, Summitt won eight national basketball championships at the University of Tennessee and more games than any other Division I college coach — male or female.
She's a Hall of Famer who also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.In 1999, Summitt was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. But she was such a major legend, that in 2000, Summitt was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. That same year, she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. She was Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year in 2011 and honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2012 ESPYS. And if that's not impressive enough, Summitt was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012.
She was the first women's basketball coach to break through the million-dollar salary level.Summitt's rise came after Title IX, which prohibited discrimination in schools based on gender. But regardless of the law, women's sports were far from equal. She didn't just change that by racking up wins, but by breaking pay barriers, too. According to ESPN, when she first started coaching the Lady Vols, Summitt made just $8,900 per year and fought with physical education classes for practice space in the gymnasium. But in 2006, Summitt became the first women's basketball coach to break through the million-dollar salary level with an annual total compensation package of $1.125 million.
She set the standard.Summitt was competitive. She yearned for the taste of victory. How much? "Her hands pounded the court with such intensity sometimes that she flattened the rings on her fingers and had to have them re-rounded in the off-season," wrote The New York Times. Her greatest rival on the court was Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies. The two teams played 22 times from 1995 to 2007. He said in a statement after her death, "She was the defining figure of the game of women's basketball. Lots of people coach the game, but very few get to define the game."