Summitt, Pat(ricia) Head

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SUMMITT, Pat(ricia) Head

(b. 14 June 1952 in Clarksville, Tennessee), head basketball coach of the Lady Volunteers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville who is considered one of the best college-level coaches.

Summitt, the daughter of James Richard Head, a self-employed businessman, and Hazel Albright Head, a homemaker, learned to play basketball in fourth grade, when she joined her three older brothers already competing against each other in their family's spacious barn loft. Considered a natural athlete, Summitt continued playing through her high school years at Cheatham County High School in Ashland City, Tennessee. After graduating from high school, Summitt attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, where she honed her skills and became an impressive all-around player known for nailing shots from the perimeter. Summitt suffered a knee injury as a senior that almost ended her career, but she came back to the court and earned a spot on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, which that year (the first games to include women's basketball) won a silver medal.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1974 with a B.A. in physical education, Summitt accepted a position as head coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; she was just twenty-two. She also studied full time as a graduate student and taught physical education classes. The Lady Volunteers finished their first two seasons under her direction with an impressive 32–19 record. During her first eight seasons, Summitt led the Lady Volunteers to the Final Four competitions four times. In 1980 Summitt married R. B. Summitt II; they had one child in 1990.

Under Summitt's leadership, the Lady Vols won National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, and 1998. Her 1997–1998 season, which was her twenty-fourth as head coach, ended with the Lady Vols racking up a 39–0 record and winning the NCAA championship for the third consecutive year. Summitt became the first female coach to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated (1997), and her career was studied in a best-selling book, Reach for the Summit (1998), and an HBO special, "A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back" (1998). Summitt entered her twenty-fifth season with a record of 664–143, placing her among the top-ranked male and female coaches.

Summitt's other career achievements include winning nineteen Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament and regular season championships, and producing eleven Olympians, sixteen Kodak All-Americans, and forty-five All-SEC performers. In 2000 Summitt was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and named Naismith Coach of the Century. Five games into the 2000 season, she celebrated her 700th win as a collegiate basketball coach, and a resounding victory against Wisconsin merited her inclusion in the elite 700 Club. Summitt and University of Texas at Austin coach Jody Conradt are the only two female members of this prestigious organization. Also in 2000 was Summitt's twelfth NCAA Final Four appearance—a milestone she shares with former UCLA coaching legend John Wooden. Since 1985, the Lady Volunteers have always been in the Associated Press's top twenty-five teams.

Summitt is an inspiration both on and off the court. She sits on the boards of Fortune 500 companies and often delivers motivational speeches to the leaders of major corporations. She is a spokesperson for the United Way, Race for the Cure, and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Honoring her home state of Tennessee, Summitt works tirelessly with state affiliates of the American Heart Association and the Tennessee Lung Association. Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton named Summitt one of the "25 Most Influential Working Mothers," as well as being honored as one of Glamour magazine's "1998 Women of the Year."

The graduation rate of Summitt's student athletes is exceptional, every Lady Vol who has completed her eligibility at TN has received her degree or is in the process of completing her degree. Summitt encourages the Lady Vols to reach their full potential and to find success as students and athletes. "I love the challenges I get in this game," she said. "I love working with young women and helping them realize their potential, and I don't know that I could ever get tired of that."

The best source for material on Summitt's life is Reach for the Summit (1998). Additional information on her life and career can be found in David Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Basketball and Other Indoor Sports (1989); Biographical Dictionary of American Sports (1989); and A Who's Who of Sports Champions—Their Stories and Records (1995).

Faye Hall Jackson