Summitt honored with ‘We Back Pat’
They stood and cheered once again for legendary coach Pat Summitt at a women’s college basketball game Saturday night.
This time, it was not for a victory, but her ongoing fight against Alzheimer’s disease, which forced her to step down as Tennessee head coach last year after 38 years in which she had more victories than any other NCAA coach, male or female — 1,098.
”It’s a special night to have my son here and to have everybody backin’ Pat,” Summitt said at halftime of the game in which Toledo beat Marquette 82-71.
Her son, Tyler, is a Marquette assistant
”I thank all of you for being here. There are so many wonderful fans and friends, and we really appreciate all of you,” Summitt said.
Tennessee orange was scattered throughout the Al McGuire Center, but more people were wearing white ”We Back Pat” T-shirts. Fans bought them to support the Pat Summitt Foundation she founded to fight Alzheimer’s.
Tyler thanked the crowd of 1,441 and mentioned a family ideal that explains why she is fighting the disease so hard.
”A saying in our household is `It is what it is, but it will be what you make it,’ ” he said.
The Summitts exited the court to cheers and cries of ”We love you Pat!” Before the game, Summitt posed for pictures and signed autographs.
Marquette women’s coach Terri Mitchell, who made her coaching debut against Tennessee in 1996, a season in which Summitt won one of her eight national championships, said Summitt was key to the rise of women’s college basketball.
”She has meant everything to our game,” Mitchell said. ”She paved the way for me to be sitting here to be a head coach, with her tenacity and her decision that women’s basketball is important.”
Said Toledo assistant coach Vicki Hall, ”Pat is women’s college basketball. She truly is. She laid the groundwork and has been a person everyone strived to be like.”
Asked if women’s college basketball would be as big without Summit, Hall said, ”Absolutely not.”
Tyler said it was strange for his mom to be in the stands while he was on the court.
But he couldn’t contain his pride in her.
”She has taken a negative and really turned it into a positive. To see her be so strong and so courageous, it (her illness) is not hard on me at all,” Tyler said before the halftime ceremony.
Former Milwaukee Sentinel sportswriter Cathy Breitenbucher and her family were seated behind Summitt. Breitenbucher said the night brought back memories of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where she reported on Summitt coaching the US to the gold medal. Cheryl Miller, Anne Donovan and Lynette Woodard were among the standouts on that team.
”She coached a great Olympic team in 1984 that was superior in some ways to the men’s team coached by Bobby Knight that had Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing,” she said. ”She had great, great players on her team, and they won by huge margins.”
Breitenbucher, wearing a ”We Back Pat” shirt, added, ”She’s just a living legend and a treasure for women’s athletics.”
Summitt is the only person to medal in an Olympic sport — silver in 1976, the first year for women’s basketball in the Games — and later coach a team to a medal.