Fans tell favorite Pat Summitt stories at candlelight vigil
Susan Reel, right, hugs Becca Bowen near the memorial at Pat Summitt Plaza on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in Knoxville, Tenn. Summitt, the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who uplifted the women's game from obscurity to national prominence during her career at Tennessee, died Tuesday. She was 64. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) About 100 people gathered on Tennessee's campus Wednesday night and told their favorite personal anecdotes about former Lady Volunteers basketball coach Pat Summitt at a candlelight vigil.
The vigil took place at Pat Summitt Plaza, which includes a bronze statue of the coach and has served as a meeting place for mourners since Summitt died Tuesday morning at the age of 64.
Fans took turns describing their personal connections to Summitt that showed examples of her determination, her empathy and her sense of humor. They sang ''Rocky Top'' near the end of the vigil.
''I have a feeling that right now she's making angels do laps,'' said Nora Lou Wilson of Knoxville.
The dozens of floral arrangements that were at the foot of Summitt's statue Tuesday night had doubled in size by the start of Wednesday's vigil.
An orange scarf had been placed around her neck. Signs on the concrete wall behind the statue featured hundreds of signatures. A wood carving of the state of Tennessee stood behind the statue and included the message, ''Now go lead your team in heaven.''
Alicia Manning, who played for the Tennessee women's basketball team from 2008-12 and was part of Summitt's last team, said she expected the floral arrangements to continue increasing up until the July 14 ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena celebrating the coach's life.
''From now until then it's going to keep getting bigger,'' Manning said. ''Obviously by then it's going to be insane, which it should be. She deserves that.''
The most emotional story at the vigil came from Becky Evans of Knoxville, who described an encounter her family had with Summitt while her father – an avid Tennessee fan – was undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery. Summitt, who was in the hospital because of an injured player, overheard Evans and her mom talking about how much their father would love to meet the coach.
Evans said Summitt stayed with her and her mom for three hours. When Evans' father was out of surgery, Summitt went into his hospital room, spent half an hour visiting him and later thanked him for being a Tennessee fan.
''I just came tonight to honor a great lady of character,'' Evans said as she looked back at the statue. ''(I was) 17 years old and scared that your dad was going to die and not knowing, and all alone.
''This lady took it upon herself to care for two East Tennessee girls and share her love. I just wanted to honor her tonight and tell her, `Thank you, Pat. Thank you for caring about us, and thank you for caring about my dad.' ''
Some fans used the vigil as an opportunity to promote bringing back the Lady Volunteers nickname for all Tennessee sports and collect signatures to petition that cause. Some speakers campaigned for that while giving their testimonials.
In a move that took effect in July 2015, all Tennessee women's sports teams other than the basketball squad started being called the Volunteers rather than the Lady Vols.
School officials said the basketball team could continue calling itself the Lady Vols because of the championship legacy established by Summitt.
School officials announced in February that the other women's sports teams would wear a commemorative patch on their uniform in 2016-17 to honor the Lady Vols legacy, a move that came after legislators introduced a bill that would have required Tennessee to call all its women's sports teams the Lady Vols. The legislative measure was then withdrawn from consideration.