Posted by: Michelle Knoll | June 27, 2016

A Great Lady

Got news yesterday that Pat Summitt’s health is failing.

Heartbreaking news.

For those of you who don’t know, Pat Summitt was the coach of the UT Lady Vols basketball team  from 1974 to 2012.  She led her teams to 1,098 victories during that time, capping off those successes with 8 NCAA championships – three of those in consecutive years – as well as seven second-place finishes and seven third-place finishes at the Final Four. She only stepped down because she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

That’s a disease I know well because my mom also battled Alzheimer’s.  It is an unforgiving, unrelenting demon with no cure in sight.The silent, painless killer that shrinks a person’s life down to nothing, sweeping through the mind with what seems to be effortless ease, erasing memory after memory.

In the computer world we say, “Delete star dot star.”

Pat is not one of the greats.  She is the greatest. As a basketball coach, she is without comparison. I love one of her quotes more than others, because it explains so clearly how she could create winning teams, time and time again.

“Most people get excited about games, but I’ve got to be excited about practice, because that’s my classroom.”

Pat Summitt wasn’t just a coach, she was a mentor.  She didn’t just have a team; she knew her girls.  She knew their strengths, and their weaknesses, and their inner struggles.  She knew just how to push them, at the right time, to bring out the best in every teammate.

I remember watching their games on TV, watching her facial expressions as she watched her girls on the court. I remember how she would give them “the look,” which carried a lot more weight than her comments did. I remember her shouting, pointing, crossing her arms, shaking her head, only to come back and point again, giving a directive to one player or another. I also remember her winning smile.

My mom watched her games and kept up with her teams through the years.  Mom knew more about Pat than I realized, when one night she shared with me about Pat’s graceful handling of some situation with another coach. I don’t remember all the details of the conversation we were having, or the situation Mom was describing.  All I remember was Mom explaining how Pat held her tongue after some pretty sorry comments were made by the other coach, how Pat smiled and held her temper at the snide and snooty attitude of the other coach, how Pat held her head high after the other coach displayed a very ungrateful attitude toward Pat, even though Pat had been gracious to the other coach.

She is a great coach.  She is a great lady.

She had to step down from coaching when she was diagnosed.  But Pat attended as many practices and home games as she could, while battling the disease. If she was in better health today, she would still be attending games and practices.

But sadly, she is not.  Alzheimer’s is taking its toll. The clock is ticking down.

And I just can’t say that phrase, the one about the final buzzer is about to sound, but I know how this disease works, so…

When the buzzer does finally sound, I will be making plans for a trip to Knoxville, TN., to pay respects to a great lady.


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