On October 20, WNBA star Candace Parker’s LA Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx to take the title. In a short and bittersweet interview with ESPN on the boards immediately after the game, Parker, with tears in her eyes, said “This is for Pat.” Pat Summitt was Parker’s college coach at Tennessee and a giant in women’s sports. She passed away in June of 2016. As our own SIUE Women’s Basketball team starts its season (you can find the schedule here and support our Cougars by attending games), Professor Sharon McGee of SIUE’s English Department brings us this reflection on Pat Summitt’s life and significance.
–Alison Reiheld, Director of Women’s Studies at SIUE
I didn’t know Pat Head Summitt (I still refer to her with three names) personally, but I knew her in the way that anyone who has attended the University of Tennessee knows her, as anyone who has ever lived in Tennessee knows her, as anyone who cares about women’s issues knows her. What she did in a lifetime was incredible—not just the eight national championships or the winningest record of college Division 1 coaches (male or female), the Olympic medals–but what she did to make women’s sports, and not just basketball but especially basketball–as competitive, important, and significant as men’s. Under her leadership, UT women’s basketball had a 100% graduation rate for student athletes. 161 student-athletes who completed their eligibility graduated—an astonishing feat in Division I sports.
Summitt died Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at the age of 64. She was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type in 2011. Regardless of whether or not one values college athletics, women owe a debt of gratitude to Summitt.