KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt was remembered as a loving mother, a loyal friend and a tireless fighter as well as a champion coach Thursday in a public ceremony honoring the person who built the Tennessee women’s basketball dynasty.
"She was the epitome of what being great is all about," said Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, one of the dozens of former Lady Volunteers who paid respects to Summitt at a "Celebration of Life" ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Catchings later added that "this is not a goodbye, but until we meet again."
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The ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena gave the public a chance to honor Summitt, who won eight national titles and a Division I record 1,098 games in her 38-year coaching tenure. A private funeral was held June 30, two days after Summitt died at the age of 64.
The list of speakers included recently retired quarterback Peyton Manning, a former Tennessee football star who called Summitt "someone who literally changed history." Manning said the only pieces of sports memorabilia he keeps in his office are two basketballs Summitt signed for his children.
Manning discussed visiting Summitt late in her fight against Alzheimer’s disease, when she couldn’t remember Manning’s name. He talked about attending Summitt’s private funeral and hearing from former Lady Vols star Chamique Holdsclaw, who told him that even as Summitt’s memory faded, the coach still could point to the screen when one of Manning’s games or commercials aired on television and would say, "That’s my friend who comes to visit me. There goes my friend."
"Pat Summitt didn’t just change the history of Tennessee basketball or made this arena known well beyond the borders of this state," Manning said. "She changed the history of the sport she loved — and of sports in general. She almost singlehandedly made women’s sports relevant well beyond mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers."
Thursday’s event attracted Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and a star-studded list of women’s basketball coaches that included Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, who served as Summitt’s greatest rival. They were among several thousand spectators to honor Summitt at an arena where she orchestrated some of her greatest victories.
The stage for Thursday’s event included each of the Lady Vols’ eight national championship trophies plus a stool and whistle used by Summitt, who coached Tennessee from 1974-2012.
Fans withstood an afternoon downpour as they waited to enter the arena. The distance traveled by many of them underscored the way Summitt built Lady Vols basketball into a national brand.
Patti Stephen drove more than 700 miles from Teaneck, New Jersey, to pay her final respects. She packed a lunch in her car and arrived on campus more than seven hours before the start of the ceremony to make sure she got a seat in the arena.
"I’ve been a Lady Vol fan for a long time, and it felt like I just needed to be here," said Stephen, who wore a T-shirt, hat and a set of bracelets bearing the message "We Back Pat."
"It wouldn’t be the same on TV."
Speakers included "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, current Tennessee coach Holly Warlick and former Lady Volunteers assistant Mickie DeMoss as well as Summitt’s son, Tyler Summitt.
"For or all of us that in some way have been influenced by Pat Summitt, she wouldn’t just want us to remember her example," Tyler Summitt said. "She would want us to go out and follow it. So let’s not just celebrate her legacy. Let’s carry it on."
The ceremony had plenty of somber moments. A videotape that aired during the event showed Warlick and former Lady Vols guard Michelle Brooke-Marciniak in tears as they described what Summitt had meant to them. The event opened with a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace."
"Tyler told me that’s his mom’s favorite song," Roberts said. "How appropriate. Two words that describe her (so well): Amazing. Grace."
But it also included some laughter.
Shelley Sexton-Collier, who played on Tennessee’s 1987 national championship team, joked that she thought she was playing for Tennessee’s cross country team because Summitt made them run so often. Warlick talked about how Summitt loved to drive fast and talk her way out of speeding tickets.
Warlick also had the crowd break into a rendition of "Rocky Top" as the arena’s video screens showed a tape of Summitt singing that song while wearing a cheerleader uniform before a Tennessee men’s basketball game.
The list of women’s basketball coaches at the ceremony featured Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw, Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer, former Georgia coach Andy Landers and former Texas coach Jody Conradt among others. Also in attendance were current SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, former SEC commissioners Mike Slive and Roy Kramer, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe and former Tennessee football coaches Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors.
They came to honor everything Summitt achieved off the court as well as on it.
"The real accomplishment of Pat’s life is this — you won 1,098 games and eight national championships, and what people talk about in the end is it’s not about how much you win but how much you did for others," said DeMoss, now an LSU assistant.