Summitt, Pat (1952—)

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Summitt, Pat (1952—)

American basketball player and coach. Name variations: Pat Head; Patricia Summitt. Born Patricia Sue Head in Henrietta, Tennessee, on June 14, 1952; fourth of five children of Richard Head and Hazel (Albright) Head; University of Tennessee at Martin, B.S., 1974; University of Tennessee at Knoxville, M.A.; married Ralph B. Summitt (a bank president), in 1980; children: son Ross Tyler (b. September 21, 1990).

While a student at University of Tennessee-Martin, led the Lady Pacers to a 64–29 record over four years and had most career points (1,405), most career free throws (361), and most points in a season (530 in 1971–72); coached the Olympic gold-medal team (1984); as head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, had a career record of 759–153 at the end of the 2000–2001 season; won six NCAA titles (1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998) and had appeared in all 20 NCAA tournaments as of 2001; was the first female coach to receive the John Bunn Award given by the Basketball Hall of Fame (1990); inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame (1990); finished the 1997–1998 season with a perfect 39–0 record and was named coach of the year by the Associated Press (1998); inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (2000); was named Naismith College Basketball Women's Coach of the Century (2001).

When Patricia Summitt's parents learned that Clarksville High had no girls' basketball team, they simply picked up and moved. The young athlete had always loved the sport; she and her three brothers played for hours on a makeshift court in the hayloft of their dairy barn. "There was never a sense of boys' basketball as opposed to girls' basketball," she said. "It was just basketball." Summitt soon made her mark as a member of the varsity squad at Cheatham County High School in Ashland City, Tennessee. In 1970, she enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), one of the few institutions then offering women's basketball. She led the team to a spot in the first Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national basketball championships in 1972. A year later, she was captain of the American team that won a silver medal at the World University Games in Moscow. Summitt was also a member of the U.S. Olympic team that played in the inaugural Olympic women's basketball tournament, in which the Americans came in second to the Soviets. A knee injury forced her to stay on the bench her senior year, but by that time she had already established several records which have yet to be broken.

After receiving her bachelor's degree in physical education, Summitt decided to go on for her master's degree at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK); as a graduate assistant, she was

made head coach of the women's basketball team in 1974. That first season, she had 16 wins and 8 losses with a team whose members had never really played the sport (she was also driving the team bus). Fundamentals, conditioning, and teamwork all had to be learned. But Summitt excelled at motivation, and by 1977 UTK placed third in the national championships.

Coach Summitt soon made her mark. She guided the U.S. Junior National Team to a gold medal in their first international competition in 1977 and a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Mexico City. By 1980, she was assistant coach of the U.S. women's Olympic team. Four years later, she was head coach; her team included Lynette Woodard, Teresa Edwards, Anne Donovan , and Cheryl Miller . At the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984, she was the only woman among the world's basketball coaches and quickly established her authority when her team won the gold medal. "In training camp, Pat would push us past the point where we didn't think we had anything left," wrote her former Olympic player Nancy Lieberman-Cline . "She taught us that our bodies wouldn't quit if our minds didn't quit. Pat's practices were so tough that the games seemed like cake." Said Summitt, "I don't mind being tough because my dad was tough. I don't mind showing affection because my mother showed affection."

As coach for over 27 years at UTK, Summitt has worked her magic. She has been the third winningest active coach in the NCAA. She was awarded Coach of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association in 1983; Naismith Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1989 and Coach of the Century in 2001; and was the first woman to be given the John Bunn Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1990, Summitt was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame; in 2000, she was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with fellow inductee Isiah Thomas.

As a player and coach, Pat Summitt has been integral in making women's basketball into a popular spectator sport. Games at UTK average 10,000 spectators each. Fans love to watch the quick and powerful women on the court who win more often than not. As of 2001, under her leadership, the Lady Vols have won six NCAA National Collegiate Women's Basketball championships (1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998), with no end in sight. She has also written two books, Reach for the Summitt and Raise the Roof. The woman who drove the team bus now has a team car, makes a hefty salary, and has her own radio show.


Lay, Nancy. The Summitt Season. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press, 1989.

Lieberman-Cline, Nancy, with Debby Jennings. Lady Magic: The Autobiography of Nancy Lieberman-Cline. NY: Sagamore, 1991.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1992.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia