Farewell Notes and Fond Remembrances by Knoxvillians Inspired by Pat Summitt

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Confessions of a Non-Athletic Superfan

by Jayne Morgan

The first time I saw a Lady Vols basketball game was in 1996, when the Lady Vols were on their way to winning a fourth national title. But I didn’t know that. I followed football reflexively, a Knoxville survival mechanism, but women’s sports didn’t register at all.

For good reason. As a card-carrying UT alumni and theater geek, I survived the indignities of having theater parking lots commandeered and performances canceled whenever the basketball or football teams played. Years of trying to negotiate Byzantine performance schedules in order to avoid game days had built up a callous of resentment. The last thing I wanted to do was support the local sports hegemony in any way, shape, or form.

And I really didn’t like basketball. My only memory of the game was playing half court in high school gym class. There was no women’s varsity team and our gym teacher explained that we weren’t allowed to play full court because the constant running might cause our vaginas to fall out.


While Pat Summitt was driving John Deere tractors and leading her high school teams to victory in Middle Tennessee, the girls of the old Farragut High were jogging carefully the few yards allowed to us on the court, trying to avoid thinking about our lady parts flopping about on the hardwood like so many soggy under-inflated basketballs. I wasn’t much of a player in any case, always fouling out within minutes of the opening jump ball.

So when a group of friends decided to go to a Lady Vols game, I looked upon it as a mildly interesting lark. A chance to experience a sociological ritual as foreign to me as a Santeria chicken sacrifice.

The first surprise came when we purchased tickets, our only choice being the nosebleed section of Thompson Boling Arena. I was surprised to see so many people filling the stands, then stunned to see who those people were. Fathers settling their 3-year-old daughters into their seats. Whole Brownie Scout troops, bedecked in orange hair bows, chattering excitedly and waving pom-poms. I expected mainly women, older parents, a student contingent, but there were kids everywhere. Of all ages.

And men. Lots of men.

After we sat down in our seats, three guys I can only describe as Bubbas sat in front of us in camouflage and ball caps. Uh oh. Here comes trouble. I comforted myself with the thought that if they got too rude and crude, I could always go home early. Then the game began.

I can’t tell you who we played or the final score; that hardly mattered. What did matter to me, taking my breath away, was seeing a crowd of 17,000 or more go crazy cheering a women’s team as it pounded up and down the court, battling, sweating, competing, all under the famous Summitt stare that could cow a platoon of Santeria priestesses.

And those Bubbas? They knew every player by name and stats. They yelled for the women and cussed out the refs. It wasn’t a women’s game to them, it was a helluva game. Oh brave new world, they cared!

And this is why women of my age don’t just love Pat Summitt, we revere her. Unlike men, most of us didn’t grow up with team sports. We weren’t taught how to be competitive. To reach for greatness. In anything, ever. At least I wasn’t. But Pat has been teaching all along that it’s in there—in each of us, if we’re willing to work for it. It doesn’t matter when it comes, whether you are 12 or 68, man or woman, Bubba or theater geek, that is one powerful message right there and when Pat Summitt says it, you believe it.

After that game, I was hooked. I became a fan, read Pat Summitt’s books, and wondered if I could have cut it on her team. I found myself missing something I never realized I lacked: a coach. To drive me to expect more of myself, looking deep inside of me with that thousand-mile stare, never satisfied, never accepting anything but my best. Too old, unathletic, still not that into sports, it doesn’t matter. I want to play for Pat Summitt. Right now. I want to run sprints for her, run till I puke. I want to throw elbows and take a charge. I wanted her to be our coach forever.

But Pat knew that the flip side of teaching us we can be better than we ever dreamed, is teaching us to recognize our limitations. Realities must be faced, even if they suck. You can’t will yourself to be taller. And working harder won’t stave off age, or the cruel fact of Alzheimer’s. Facing a foe there is no good defense against, Pat was coaching all of us right up till the end—developing new techniques for accepting loss with grace.

I teach acting classes and sometimes I tell myself I’d like to be the Pat Summitt of acting coaches. It’s a daunting challenge. She taught me what a coach could be—demanding, yes. Caring, absolutely. She was all about making us believe we are bigger and better than we have ever suspected. That’s the example of her life. Not that we never lose, but that we never settle for anything less than our best effort, come what may.

I never met Pat Summitt. But she is my coach too.

Jayne Morgan is an actress and a longtime fixture of the Knoxville theater scene; she is currently artistic director of Flying Anvil Theatre. Follow Jayne at jayneemorgan.com.

Head Coach Pat Summitt during the Jan. 19, 2006 game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena.Courtesy of University of Tennessee Athletics

Head Coach Pat Summitt during the Jan. 19, 2006 game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Searching for the Right Questions, But Getting the Right Answers

by Brooks Clark

On a November morning in 1995, I had an interview with Pat Summitt.

It was in her office. I sat on the famous sofa, where hundreds of Lady Vols had received advice, counseling, stern words, loving words. She sat across from me. Is there a word for the feeling of sitting across from a living legend, hoping not to embarrass one’s self? Of course, Summitt was friendly, open, and engaged. The glare, as many have said, was reserved for the basketball court. As she said many times, “Our players know that, when they step across the line onto the basketball court, the standard is perfection, and they accept that.”

Pat glanced at my No. 10 Reporter’s Notebook. My questions, scrawled on the brown cardboard inside flap, were about Michelle Marciniak, the flashy blonde point guard whose “spin move” to the basket—usually punctuated by an impertinent flourish of Marciniak’s ponytail—had been driving Pat crazy. It was decidedly not in the manner of Lady Vols basketball.

In an earlier interview, I’d asked Marciniak why she had Scotch-taped an AP photo to the dashboard of her Honda of Pat grabbing her jersey and yelling in her face. “I wanted to make sure that that never happens again,” answered Marciniak.

Is Pat being too hard on you? I asked. “Oh, no,” she said. “She’s trying to make me into the point guard that I can be.” At some point, Marciniak said, “I want a championship so bad it hurts.”

So now I was asking my questions to Summitt.

The warm-up: What should a point guard do? “Have the team in the palm of her hand,” she said. “She should be the coach on the floor.”

We talked about how Pat had first watched Marciniak as a ninth-grade AAU player but even then worried about how her flashy style would fit in with the Lady Vols’ system.

What about the AP photo? “Yes,” Pat said, smiling. “I called the Marciniaks and told them it wasn’t child abuse,” (As Lady Vols fans know so well, it was in the Marciniaks’ living room in Allentown, Penn., that Pat’s water had broken, causing her to quickly catch a plane home to make sure that Tyler was born in Tennessee.)

Why did you bench Michelle in the previous year’s title game against UConn? (She had whipped a long pass to a center, open under the basket, who let the pass go through her hands.) “We’ve been working on shortening our passes,” said Pat. “We want 12-foot passes, not 20-foot passes. Michelle knows [the center] can’t catch that pass.”

Pat glanced at my list of questions on the cardboard. “I see where you’re going with this,” she said, standing up and heading toward her side of her desk. I thought for a moment the interview was over. Instead the opposite happened. “That makes me think of something that just arrived today,” she said, cheerfully. She had given the team personality tests that Rodgers Cadillac gave its sales people to understand what motivates each individual. Summitt opened up the report and said that something had jumped out at her: basically, that she and her flashy point guard were exactly the same. More than anything else, they were both motivated to win, and they would do anything to achieve winning. Summitt said, in so many words, that this had given her a new perspective on how she had been relating to her point guard.

It should come as no surprise that an interview with one of the greatest coaches in history provided one of the most memorable moments for a humble reporter. But this was better than that. So much of Summitt’s coaching genius and personal willingness (and ability) to adapt to changing circumstances were laid out in the allegory of Spinderella and—it turned out, her Tough Love Godmother. That season was the story of Pat working with Marciniak, a psychology major, to get the most out of an introverted center who was shrinking more than most from Pat’s sterner coaching. It was also the story of Marciniak gathering the entire team on a sofa to explain to a freshman that she had been respectful of her elders long enough. For the team to win, she had to play like an All-American instead of a freshman. Happily, Chamique Holdsclaw did as asked, and the Lady Vols won the first of three NCAA titles in a row.

All this and more was told elegantly by, among others, the great Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated in 1998 and Sally Jenkins in the books she wrote with Pat.

If you ever had a moment with Pat Summitt, you have remembered it and retold it in the past few days. Great coaches change lives and make the people they meet, not just the players they coach, better. And I’m grateful for having had that moment, when Pat helped me do my job better.

Brooks Clark is a project manager for Alumni Communications at the University of Tennessee—but in the ’90s he was Metro Pulse’s sports correspondent, often writing cover stories on UT athletics.

Head Coach Pat Summitt during the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, March 24, 2012.Courtesy of University of Tennessee Athletics

Head Coach Pat Summitt during the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, March 24, 2012.

Finding Yourself Under that Famous Glare

by Susan A. Kemppainen

Several years ago, when I worked at Covenant Health producing training videos, I had the opportunity to tape Coach Summit for a citywide hospital project on treating patients with ventilator-assisted pneumonia.

We’d set up in the Lady Vols locker room for the shoot and then found ourselves waiting on Pat Summitt. We waited. We waited and then we waited a little longer. After all, it was PAT SUMMITT. We’d have waited until Hell froze over if need be. Finally, the door swung open and here came Pat, charging in barefoot with her shoes in her hand. She apologized for being late, but one of her players had just become engaged and attention needed to be paid.

She then complained about her shoes and I assured her we’d just shoot her from the waist up and shoes weren’t needed. She smiled and the shoes were tossed to the side.

We began the taping. She was word perfect. On point. Professional. Until we came to the word “ventilator.” She couldn’t say the word for any amount of money and it was a pretty key word. “Ventlur.” No. “Venteelar.” Nope. “Ventleer.” Still not there. She laughed at herself and wondered why that word was so hard for her. I offered to change the word, not knowing I how I was going to do that; and, she said “No, I’m going to get it.” We practiced, practiced, and practiced. She’d get it wrong and you could see her determination get stronger and stronger. And, finally, she got it. She smiled that big smile of hers. Thanked us for our patience. We did the final taping; and, then, she was gone. Rushing out the door. Still barefoot.

My second meeting with Pat was at a women’s conference where she spoke of never giving up. Always putting one foot in the front of the other and being determined to do better regardless of the circumstance. The legendary Lady Vol Coach was being a coach for women, as she had for countless numbers of her players. The women of the conference left empowered and ready to change—myself, included.

As the conference wound up and people thronged around her, I’d sat with Pat’s mother, Hazel Head, a sweet, gregarious woman who was a bit frail, but razor sharp. She was as friendly a woman as I’d ever met. I walked with Ms. Head and Pat to the elevator. As we stood there, I chatted with Pat about what she’d said and how difficult it could be sometimes. I explained I suffered from chronic depression and asked how in the world you just kept putting one foot in front of the other when you’d rather do anything else.

And then came “the glare.” She locked those steel blue eyes on me and paused for a second (which seemed like 12 years) and said, “You get out of bed every day. You take a step. You just do it.”

After our conversation, I thought back to the 2009 NCAA tournament, when the vaunted Lady Vols lost in the first round of play to Ball State. Pat was quoted as saying that once in her hotel room, she cried, she threw things and didn’t sleep. Yet, the next morning, once the team arrived back in Knoxville, she held practice. There were no more games that season, but she was teaching a lesson.

You lose. You get back up. You work so it doesn’t happen again.

I’ll never forget seeing those two sides of Pat Summitt: the warm, light hearted woman who could laugh at the farm girl from Henrietta who struggled to say “ventilator,” and the determined, no-nonsense coach who didn’t take human frailty as an excuse. It’s just something to overcome and defeat.

She taught me a lesson that has stayed with me. While I may not be able to control my depression, I can get out of bed everyday, take a step or two and just get on with it.

Thanks, Coach. We’ll not see your likes again.

Susan A. Kemppainen is a life-long Knoxville resident, graduate of UT’s theatre department, and retired videographer from Covenant Health. She currently edits a webpage on medical education.

COVER_0707_Pat_Summitt4Patrick Murphy-Racey
In the Fast Lane with a Multi-Tasking Wonder

by Patrick Murphy-Racey

graduated from Marquette University in 1989, having photographed virtually every single basketball game from my sophomore year. It was a great gig because you got fed before every game, which was key for me as a student. Marquette was a big basketball school, being counted among the “Jesuit mob” of hoops schools.

When I arrived in Knoxville in September of ’89 to work for the newspaper, I got assigned to a men’s basketball game and was shocked to see only 3,000 people in the stands in this massive arena that had just been opened before my arrival. A few days later, I got assigned to my first Lady Vols game, and was again shocked—at how many people were there. Even in the late ’80s, the Lady Vols were drawing well over 10,000 a game.

By the end of that season, I soon found myself in London, England to cover Pat and her team playing international opponents—and eventually, I got to my first Final Four down in New Orleans. I remember finding Catherine “Tat” Shiely, who was coach of the Marquette women’s team. I introduced myself to her and told her I was sorry for not ever covering our own women’s basketball team. She smiled and asked me who I was covering at the Final Four. When I told her, she threw her head back and laughed and said, “Patrick, you are in good hands. Apology accepted.”

Pat Summitt is personally responsible for my trips to six Final Fours, London, the White House (twice), and to New York City when she received the ESPY. She’s also the reason why I got hundreds of assignments from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Sport Magazine, The Sporting News, The National, and the list goes on and on.

In all that time, Pat treated me more as a friend than a journalist. She always called me by my first name and insisted on me doing the same for her. She allowed me access, many times, into her locker rooms in clear violation of the NCAA rules, but no one ever challenged her, ever.

Pat is responsible for me being able to not just make some amazing photos throughout my career, but she allowed me to pay the mortgage on our home.

She also affected my prayer life in a positive way when I got to spend two full days with her for Sports Illustrated, leading up to the Indianapolis Final Four. I met her at her home and rode shotgun to the arena as she pushed that Benz past 70 mph on Alcoa Highway, steering with her knees as she applied mascara and talked on the cell phone stuck between her cheek and shoulder. I was terrified, but kept shooting all the way to campus.

Pat’s loss to me personally is palpable. It’s been a hard few days but shooting the sunset over the Henley bridge on the day she died seemed to help me gain some closure. I’ve been dragging my feet as I’ve wanted to do a book of my photographs on Pat Summitt for a long time. In typical fashion, Pat has now provided me with the motivation to get off my butt and get busy. Thanks Coach. You still inspire me even in death to reach higher and push beyond 100 percent in all things. I thank you for your example, and will pray for Tyler and the rest of your family. I will do that book and honor you in the process.

I will get it done!

Patrick Murphy-Racey is a longtime professional photographer. You can find his work at pmrphoto.com.

Head Coach Pat Summitt cuts down the net during SEC Championship Final game between the LSU Tigers and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, March 9, 2008 .Courtesy of University of Tennessee Athletics

Head Coach Pat Summitt cuts down the net during SEC Championship Final game between the LSU Tigers and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, March 9, 2008 .

Inspiring Confidence to Become Coaches Ourselves

by Benny Smith

I have often told folks that my role as general manager at WUTK, the student radio station at the University of Tennessee, resembles that of a coach as much as it does almost anything else. I have to be sure to recruit a good team, made up of many people from various walks of life working toward the same goals. So it goes without saying that I have looked to successful coaches as role models to provide inspiration and enlightenment on how I can do the job that I need to do, every day. The two coaches I have drawn the most inspiration from happen to be my father, W.D. “Dee Dobber” Smith, and the greatest basketball coach of all time, Pat Summitt.

WUTK has had a sports show for many years, and it has a long and impressive list of alumni who have gone on to do incredible work in the world of sports broadcasting and journalism. The show is a point of great pride for us, but getting a head coach at a D1 school to commit to doing an interview with a college radio station is never an easy task. That is, unless the coach you request is Pat Summitt. She was the only coach who would take time to come over to our studio and allow the student staff to conduct live interviews with her.

There was a lot of nervous energy inside the station the first time she agreed to come in and be our live guest. It was my job to keep the troops calm and make sure they were focused on the job at hand. It was almost a Christmas Eve-like atmosphere inside the basement walls of our studio. I remember being at the door to greet her when she walked in—and seeing a genuine smile on her face that showed me, right away, that she wanted to be there. 

Coach shook everyone’s hand inside the station, and said “Well, where do you want me to go?” We sat her down in the studio and her confident presence rubbed off on the students, which is one of the things that a great coach can do. No longer nervous, the students conducted a fantastic interview, and she acknowledged them for doing so. During the interview, she talked about a lesson her father taught her that “If you do a job, it’s not done until you do it right.” That really stuck with me. Its simple yet powerful message guides me every day, and I proudly use that quote when teaching and training students, as well as coaching my daughter’s soccer teams.

After the interview, I got to spend just a few minutes alone with one of my idols. I wanted to make sure she knew how important what she just did was for my students, and for me. And just how much we all appreciated what that she had done for UT and for her student-athletes. We both agreed it’s a blessing that we were able to help young men and women realize their career goals and dreams, and give the students opportunities and encouragement to make those dreams become a reality. To be able to share that bond, and that moment, was something that still inspires me to do what I love to do.

It’s hard to even fathom Knoxville without Coach Summitt. But just as my dad lives on through the many lessons he taught me, Coach Summitt will do the same through so many others. Work hard, prepare well, treat all people the same, be yourself, love what you do, help others. Now, by using those lessons from my dad and Coach Summitt, I will always strive to do my best to “do it right.”

Thanks, Coach. Go Lady Vols!

Benny Smith is the general manager and program director for Volunteer Radio 90.3 WUTK-FM, “The Rock.”

Featured Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey

See Also: Pat Summitt’s Lasting Inspiration to Girls in Iraq

Pat Summit provided basketballs to an Iraqi girls’ basketball league and later brought a group of Iraqi  girls to one of her basketball camps for free. A new film about Summit’s impact on them, called 'Coaching Change:  A Legacy of Love,' is being released this summer.Courtesy of the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society

Pat Summit provided basketballs to an Iraqi girls’ basketball league and later brought a group of Iraqi girls to one of her basketball camps for free. A new film about Summit’s impact on them, called ‘Coaching Change: A Legacy of Love,’ is being released this summer.

We banded together to make a united effort in the name of fine journalism.

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