Over the course of her 38-year career, Pat Summitt — the winningest coach in the history of college basketball, who died Tuesday at age 64 — racked up plenty of accolades: 1,098 victories, eight national championships, and 161 college athletes who called her coach.
Harder to quantify with statistics, however, are her massive contributions to the field of women’s athletics. When Summitt first arrived at the University of Tennessee in 1974, women’s basketball was not even acknowledged by the NCAA as a sport. There were no such things as scholarships for female athletes, and often women’s basketball wasn’t even a full court game.
But Summitt was not interested in playing second fiddle to anyone — and that included the men’s sports at the university.
She became known for her no-nonsense attitude, her stern, unrelenting gaze, and her willingness to fight — especially for her players. When she noticed that the Lady Vols' locker room was dwarfed by that of the men’s team, she lobbied the college for a larger one. In the face of meager turnout for her women’s games, she led the charge to fill the bleachers.
Coach Summitt not only led her players to a historic number of victories but also fiercely advocated for them off court. This anecdote published in the Orlando Sentinel in the wake of her passing demonstrates just that:
[Summitt] demanded college administrators take her sport seriously when few did. In the 1970s, Tennessee went into overtime during a game at Louisiana State. The men’s teams were scheduled to play next and, Dale Brown, the L.S.U. men’s coach, wanted the women to play their overtime period in an auxiliary gym, according to the Lady Vols. Summitt refused.
Later, when Tennessee officials asked whether Summitt was interested in coaching the men’s team, she replied, "Why is that considered a step up?"
Summitt died Tuesday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. You can learn more about her legendary career by watching this clip from the 2012 ESPY awards.