The truth is sports editors do have a rooting interest.
Many of us root for the story, and early last month several of us in The Oklahoman sports department we were rooting for Pat Summitt to make one last trip to Oklahoma City.
It was the days leading up to the release of the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket, and some of us around the office were hoping Tennessee would be assigned to the Norman Regional. We wanted one more chance to write about Summitt’s impact on her sport, all of sports and American culture. I’m trying to think of a more important woman in the history of American sports, and I can’t.
Title IX, the federal law which opened up opportunities that no little girl previously could have dreamed of, celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer. But Pat Summitt, who stepped aside today as the Tennessee women’s basketball coach, put a face on Title IX. She showed us exactly what we’d been missing and what was possible. Showed us it was possible to be a lady, a leader, a competitor and a winner.
Here’s what Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale had to say today about Summitt:
“Pat is one of those rare individuals whose influence crosses all boundary lines,” Coale said in a statement. “Literally thousands of coaches in a vast array of sports abide by her tenets, passing them on as gospel to their players. Her name is synonymous with the sport of women’s basketball, and yet I believe it is her leadership style–her way of achieving, if you will, that will be her most dominant legacy. ”
“On a personal level, I feel unbelievably blessed to have had the opportunity to compete against her. I, and an entire generation of women’s basketball coaches, will always be indebted to her for the culture of excellence she helped to create in our sport. It is on the foundation of relevance that her success helped carve that we and others like us have built our programs.”
One of my favorite moments on this job came last fall. It was on that sad day late last summer when Summitt announced she was battling the early onset of dementia. We had just hired Travis Haney as our new OU football writer. Recalling that during our interview Travis had talked about covering Summitt’s Lady Vols as a student journalist at the University of Tennessee, I called him to ask his thoughts on the news. He was devastated, and told me a story about his relationship with Summitt. I asked him to share that story with our readers, which he did in this blog.
We’re always looking for local connections to national news, and Travis’ story localized and personalized it.
I’ll also remember Pat’s two most public trips to Oklahoma City. The first came in June 2005 when she watched the Lady Vols’ softball team in the Women’s College World Series. We had an intern that summer named Aidan Tait, who considered Summitt a personal hero. Aidan fought through a near fainting spell and composed herself long enough to ask a few questions that Pat graciously helped turn into an interview on whether she ever tried talking 6-foot-3 All-American pitcher Monica Abbott into playing basketball. (Don’t go Googling Aidan Tait searching for her byline. After that summer she went back to Harvard, spent time in South America serving youth through a sports mission and apparently now is a med student at UC Berkley).
Summitt came back in 2009 in search of career victory No. 1,000. That’s the night OU (temporarily) denied Summitt, and Summitt and the Vols ended Courtney Paris’ streak of consecutive games with double digit points and rebounds.