It was an emotional day for the head coach, who, for once, wasn’t in control and instead was an observer. It was also a poignant conclusion to what had been a difficult 2008-09 season for Pat Summitt and her team of one senior and 11 underclassmen.
Michelle Marciniak used part of her story-telling time Sunday to address the current players in attendance, which included rising sophomores Briana Bass, Amber Gray, Alicia Manning and Shekinna Stricklen, and rising junior Vicki Baugh.
“It’s going to be H-E-double toothpicks,” said Marciniak, who turned from her seat on the stage to talk to the players. “But you will win a national championship.”
Marciniak concluded her remarks, as all the players did, with a heartfelt thanks to Summitt for showing them the way while they were students in college and after they graduated. It was common for both player and coach to choke up when those remarks were made, and Summitt hugged each player as she left the stage.
The entire afternoon – the nonstop program lasted about 2.5 hours – was devoted to Summitt, who had not been told in advance what would happen or who would appear.
She was told to be at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville by noon on Sunday and to wear orange. She arrived at 11:58 a.m. wearing a stylish orange jacket and skirt and black shoes and then greeted former players and fans, posed for photographs and signed autographs before being ushered backstage for an event that had been planned by her administration, including longtime chief aides Debby Jennings and Donna Thomas, and Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan.
The event was a celebration of Summitt’s milestone 1,000th win on Feb. 5 against Georgia this past season. She ended the season with 1,005 career wins and is the all-time leader in NCAA basketball history.
“I thought about, ‘What could we do?’ and it’s hard to think to think of something to do for somebody who has everything and something this significant,” Cronan said. “What we decided was to have this event and include her family and friends and former players and coaches and managers. To me everybody here is a part of history.”
Dozens of former players and coaches from all four decades attended, and the theater lobby before the start of the festivities was a sea of orange and popping flashbulbs.
“It’s been so much fun for both Pat and I to go back and see people from the past that you haven’t seen in years,” Cronan said. “There are people from all over the country.”
Fans also made the trek – Cronan said she met two ladies who drove from Chicago – to take part in the celebration and players, coaches and fans filled the upper seats and most of the lower area of the theater.
“It’s history, and it’s a celebration of something that will never be duplicated,” Cronan said.
The event’s masters of ceremony were Nikki Caldwell and Holly Warlick, who both departed a wee bit early to begin a motorcycle tour to New Orleans to raise money for breast cancer awareness. They had a scheduled stop and appearance in Nashville on Sunday evening.
The duo opened the festivities with delightful senses of humor and dry wit, with Caldwell walking onto the stage pretending to be Summitt being put on hold for the president by the White House.
“He needs to come on,” Caldwell said. “No telling what Geno said to him while he was there.”
That line led to uproarious laughter from those in attendance. It was in reference to Coach Geno Auriemma and UConn winning the national championship in 2009 and making a visit to the White House. At a parade in Connecticut to honor the team Auriemma had made lighthearted reference to the doctors’ offices in Tennessee being full of sick people because the Huskies were champs.
“I always took the high road,” said Caldwell, still pretending to be Summitt on hold on the phone while the real Summitt laughed onstage. “I didn’t say anything about all the doctors being up in Connecticut the last four-and-a-half years.”
That really brought down the house because Tennessee won national titles in 2007 and 2008 and beat UConn in the regular season in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
From there, Caldwell and Warlick broke into song, “Pat Summitt dadgummit,” and, with Summitt sitting in an orange high-back chair at stage left from the audience’s point of view, that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon of funny stories, including a group of players who went from an early morning practice to Krispy Kreme – something Summitt found out about for the first time Sunday.
Mickey Dearstone, the voice of the Lady Vols, introduced the players who represented the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. He added a disclaimer that the stories about Summitt were fabricated because “nobody could be that mean.”
Warlick and Caldwell got the storytelling started. Warlick talked about a preseason team meeting in which the players explained what they did over the summer to get ready. Summitt was livid with one person and summoned her to the office for a private meeting. When the woman tried to answer the question of what she did, Summitt interrupted and said, “Nothing!” When Summitt asked what she had to say for herself, the woman started to speak again and Summitt bellowed, “I don’t want to hear it. Get out of my office. I can’t even look at you!” according to Warlick.
When the women rejoined the group, Summitt reiterated her disappointment. Warlick explained the person Summitt had been yelling at was a manager, not a walk-on like the coach thought.
Warlick then brought out a “Little Pat” cardboard standup of Summitt’s body and Caldwell’s face, because she said Caldwell was becoming like Summitt. Warlick had Caldwell change from a gray jacket to an orange one – “You look better in orange anyway,” Warlick said – but they had a little trouble getting it on.
“Little wardrobe malfunction,” Warlick said.
“As long as it’s not Janet Jackson,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell told a story about the team being in Hawaii for a tournament and word getting to Summitt that Bridgette Gordon, who was from Deland, Fla., had an issue with her grades.
Summitt told her star player: “I’m going to put you on a raft back to Deland on a leaky raft,” according to Caldwell.
Caldwell, who is now the head coach at UCLA, noted that Candace Parker wanted to attend but is due to have a baby girl any day now.
“A little Bruin … I mean a future Lady Vol,” Caldwell said.
The first group of players, representing the 1970s and 1980s, then took the stage: Cindy Brogdon (1977-79); Dianne Fetzer Brady (1973-75); Lisa McGill Reagan (1976-79); Suzanne Barbre Singleton (1974-78); Shelley Sexton Collier (1983-87); Shelia Collins (1981-85); Karla Horton Douglas (1984-87); and Dawn Marsh (1984-88).
The stage was adorned with chairs for the players, a life-sized standup of Summitt, an oversized image of Summitt on a Wheaties box, the eight national title trophies with the nets, metal lockers, uniforms, shoes, basketballs and other Lady Vol items, along with a large screen that showed dozens of archived photos – a shot of a toddler Tyler Summitt being held by his mother elicited oohs and ahhs – and previews of an upcoming DVD release, “The Pat Summitt Story,” narrated by Kara Lawson.
Each player took turns telling stories, all of which ended in laughter from the players, Summitt and the audience.
Brogdon repeated Summitt’s mantra of “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships,” by noting she had been a lifelong ticket seller on the court prior to her arrival at Tennessee. Both tried out for the 1976 Olympic team – Brogdon had no idea then that she would play for Summitt at Tennessee – and players were assigned to go one-on-one on defense full court.
“Guess who I drew?” said Brogdon, who was 18 years old at the time and figured she was quicker and younger than Summitt and would be fine.
“I have to say this, Pat,” Brogdon said, looking at her former coach. “She just whupped my ass. I got a taste of what Tennessee defense is.”
Both Summitt and Brogdon made the 1976 Olympic team – a Lady Vol has been on every Olympic basketball team – and won a silver medal in Montreal.
Sexton talked about playing at Vanderbilt for the first time in its odd configuration with the benches on the baselines.
“She’s trying to yell at us,” Sexton said. “We’re not playing well.”
Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt – 84-77 on Jan. 16, 1985, the first team to ever lose to the Commodores under Summitt – and the coach “can’t even talk to us, she’s so mad,” Sexton said.
The players were ordered to the bus and told not to talk. They also were told they would not be stopping to eat, “because we might choke on it,” Horton added, to much laughter.
The team reported to Summitt’s office, which was in Stokely at the time, and crowded in so tightly that their knees were in their chests. They watched the game tape repeatedly.
“We played ole (matador) defense and statue defense all night long,” Sexton said.
Summitt then looked at her watch – it was approaching 3 a.m. – and the players waited to be dismissed. Instead they were told they had two minutes to be back in uniform – the ones they had just worn hours earlier – and on the court. They sprinted to the locker room to change and then ran sprints “until we could not feel our legs,” Sexton said.
The session finished at 4:30 a.m., and Summitt’s parting words were to not miss their 7:50 a.m. class.
“Pat probably doesn’t know this,” Horton said. “But we piled in Dawn Marsh’s car and went to Krispy Kreme.”
That brought shrieks of laughter from the players and fans and a look of shock to Summitt’s face.
The players made it to class, and Summitt got a phone call that day from then-UT President Joe Johnson, who was concerned about the late – or rather, early – practice.
Collins talked about the 1984-85 team – a young team made up mostly of underclassmen that went 22-10 – and turned to the current players, who were sitting near the stage.
“It was supposed to be a rebuilding year,” Collins said. “We were struggling, similar to last year’s team. It’s all right ladies. We’ve been there. We’re going to tell you how to handle this.”
That 1985 team was to meet Ole Miss in the SEC tourney semifinals and an irate Summitt told the team after the morning shoot-around that she had already been asked to do color commentary for the title game – the assumption being that Tennessee would lose to the Rebels.
“She said a lot of other stuff, but … ,” Collins said.
Marsh picked up the story by saying she got instructions from Collins that “I don’t care what Pat says. We’re runnin’ and gunnin’.”
Marsh, the freshman point guard, knew that meant a quick seat on the bench for her for not running the offense, but Collins, a senior guard, assured Marsh that she would tell Summitt to put her back in, which Marsh actually believed. Collins went on to score a career-high 40 points – still good for second place in the record books for an SEC tourney game – while Marsh wondered when she would get back on the court. Tennessee beat Ole Miss, 79-71, and went on to win the SEC Tournament that year by beating Auburn in the title game, 63-60. Both Collins and Marsh made the SEC All-Tourney Team with the senior being selected MVP.
Horton outlined a three-game road series in 1984 before Christmas during which the team lost to Georgia, Louisiana Tech and Texas. The break was shortened and players reported for three-a-day workouts – track, court, track.
“We pushed each other through it,” Horton said.
Summitt was impressed enough to take the team to Gatlinburg for dinner and sightseeing, but Horton said most of the players were so tired, they found some rocking chairs on the front porch of an eatery and just rocked for relaxation.
Brady was Summitt’s first point guard, and she wore a “First Win” T-shirt – the idea belonged to teammate Joy Scruggs – along with Sue Thomas Martin and several other members of Summitt’s first squad from 1973-74.
That first team went 25-2 and was led by the 5’2 Brady, who is now Dianne Brady Fetzer and teaches ninth-grade math in Georgia.
Brady described herself as an “offensive-minded player,” who took to a defensive drill called “The Jungle Drill,” which reminded the team of a popular song at the time, Jethro Tull’s “Bungle in the Jungle.”
She was just one year older than her coach, and Summitt wondered if she had Brady’s attention and respect. During a game, Brady was getting ready to in-bound the ball and Summitt was telling her what play to run. Brady got so fired up that she forgot to pass and instead dribbled the ball in herself and took off down the court.
“She knew at that moment that she had me,” Brady said.
But Brady still discussed court matters with her coach – the point guard deadpanned that rumors of her being argumentative were false – and she stated her opinion on a van trip back to Knoxville that the team should have played more zone defense, as opposed to man.
“Me telling Pat what kind of defense to play was like me telling Moses how to part the Red Sea,” Brady said she realizes now.
She also told two stories about the team being down at halftime.
“She found a place in the bottom of that gym (at Union), and we ran sprints at halftime,” Brady said, as the audience howled with laughter. “I determined that strategy didn’t work because we never caught up.”
When trailing at halftime in another game, Summitt left the locker room and told the players to figure out what to do.
“That strategy worked because we did catch up,” Brady said.
Marsh relayed a story about playing an early round NCAA tourney game in Knoxville in 1988 and getting a very comfortable first half lead by feeding the ball to Gordon.
“It was Bridgette Gordon this, Bridgette Gordon that,” Marsh said with mock indignation.
Marsh set up a play to Gordon that first featured a lot of dribbling by Marsh – between the legs, behind the back – but the pass sailed into the stands right before halftime. Marsh knew what was coming.
Marsh headed for the locker room, but Summitt made a beeline for her in the hallway before she got there.
“She’s eye-balling me, and that vein is sticking out,” Marsh said. “I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t kill me.’ ”
Marsh reminded herself to maintain eye contact and then her eye caught assistants Warlick and Mickie DeMoss making faces at her behind Summitt’s back. Marsh maintained her composure, but “I couldn’t tell you what she said.”
Lisa McGill Reagan remembered a 1977 game at Ole Miss when the Rebels were a national contender and the gym was raucous. She was hit by an orange while warming up.
“We’re playing like crap,” McGill said. “Trish (Roberts) is playing like crap crap.”
Patricia Roberts, whom the team called Trish, fouled out and heard a racial epithet as she walked to the bench directed at her. She responded by extending her middle finger to the crowd as her horrified teammates hoped Summitt didn’t see it.
“But she has eyes in the back of her head,” McGill said. “She said, ‘This will never happen again, not from a player who ever plays for me.”
Tennessee won by two, 58-56, on Jan. 17, 1977, but Summitt was furious. Despite a blinding snowstorm, they headed for Knoxville. They drove home in the van – plus two station wagons for players and gear – and Barbre mentioned to McGill how hungry she was. McGill got the nerve to tell Summitt, who pulled off the highway and found a McDonald’s that had closed but employees were still inside. Barbre knocked on the door and begged for food and the players bought what was left over.
After hours driving through the snowstorm, the caravan arrived on campus and Summitt ordered the players into their wet uniforms for a practice. They got the same directive afterwards – don’t miss their 7:50 a.m. classes.
McGill said the team forged strength that season and when the Lady Vols played Michigan State later in the AIAW Championships, the Spartans not only didn’t score for 12.5 minutes they didn’t even attempt a shot. That brought an appreciative round of applause from the audience.
Barbre, who is now Suzanne Barbre Singleton, has the distinction of being the first four-year player for Summitt at a time when there were no scholarships.
“What were you thinking?” Dearstone asked.
“We played for the love of the game. I was the first player to survive Pat for four years,” said Barbre, who noted she had freshman teammates who didn’t make it to senior year.
Barbre told about a pre-Thanksgiving Day practice in 1975 in which the team was excited about the upcoming break. She asked then assistant Sharon Fanning if the team could skip the evening conditioning session and instead head home for the holiday. Summitt granted the request – she seemed none too happy by it – but advised them to be ready for Saturday.
The players reported to Alumni Gym – Summitt is the only coach on campus to have coached in Alumni Gym, Stokely and Thompson-Boling Arena – before kickoff of the Tennessee-Vanderbilt football game. Barbre noted they could hear the pre-game, then kickoff, then halftime and then the end of the game. The campus cleared, and they were still practicing.
“Any full court drill that had ever been drawn up to that point we were exposed to,” Barbre said.
Barbre ended her remarks with thanks to Summitt for the life lessons and added, “Pat, we appreciate that you keep us involved. It’s awesome.”
The players then left the stage to hugs from Summitt, and the players representative of the 1990s and 2000s were introduced next: Alex Fuller (2004-09); Daedra Charles-Furlow (1988-91); Kellie Jolly Harper (1995-99); Michelle Marciniak (1993-96); Nikki McCray (1991-95); Shekinna Stricklen (2008-current); LaShonda Stephens Tucker (1996-2000); and manager Kelly Gibson, a last-minute fill-in for Kyra Elzy, who wasn’t able to attend.
Gibson said her first thought when she was asked after she arrived Sunday to make some impromptu remarks was that Elzy must not have had a team manager to call and remind her to come. That line brought a lot of laughter from the current team managers.
Gibson also talked about how the team arrived in Georgia, and the managers realized they had left the bag of practice gear. They managed to get it to Athens, but Summitt didn’t want to know how. She wanted to know why it was left behind in the first place. She also mentioned how happy everyone was after the 1996 national title game – Tennessee beat Georgia in Charlotte, N.C. – until the phone rang in the managers’ hotel room at 6:30 a.m., with a frantic Summitt asking, “Where’s my makeup bag? I have to be on national television in 30 minutes!”
Fuller, who was seated near some gray metal lockers on the stage, reminisced about what a locker actually looked like. The 2008-09 team got booted out of its locker room in February and has not been let back in yet.
Fuller said she would always remember Summitt’s one-liners, especially when she told Manning at the Auburn game this season that “I promise you I could tell you to go to the store to get orange juice and you would come back with milk.” Fuller said she noted a sense of humor with Summitt this season when she would drop a line about how her mother, Hazel Head, could beat this team down the floor and then share it with the managers.
Dearstone announced before Fuller spoke that she would be a graduate assistant at Kansas next season. It was this season when Fuller was the lone senior that piqued her curiosity about coaching.
“Thank you for a good five years,” Fuller told Summitt. “I learned a lot.”
Charles-Furlow couldn’t play her first year because of Prop 48 academic rules – she later graduated with honors – so she was on her own in terms of conditioning and assured Summitt she was running a daily three miles. During her first year on campus she could not practice or work out with the team.
So when Charles-Furlow reported for her run in her second year Summitt ran it with her at Tyson Park. Charles-Furlow, who has asthma, hit a wall midway through and blamed the weeping willow trees in the park because she was allergic to them. She said that Summitt had told her on her recruiting visit that Knoxville didn’t have those kind of trees – Summitt clarified she told Charles-Furlow there was one such tree, and she would order it cut down.
“I started dying,” Charles-Furlow said. “I said, ‘Pat, I can’t breathe.’ ”
Summitt again sought assurance that the sophomore had indeed done her running as a freshman, and Charles-Furlow replied that she had run 1.5 miles in the morning and 1.5 miles in the evening.
“So that added to three miles, right?” Charles-Furlow said.
A livid Summitt took Charles-Furlow back to the start line and then Summitt ran to catch up with the other players.
“After that I ran three miles every day,” Charles-Furlow said.
Jolly, now Kellie Jolly Harper, talked about 1997 – the 10-loss team that went on to win an improbable national title.
“That was the rough year for us,” Jolly said.
She and Chamique Holdsclaw figured out a code to Summitt’s attire at practice.
“When she wore black we were going to have a bad practice,” Jolly said.
Holdsclaw and Jolly would stretch at center court and wait for Summitt to appear. They took a philosophical approach and wondered if her mood led to the color choice, or if the color choice created the mood.
If the coach had on glasses – Summitt usually wears contacts – “it was all over,” Jolly said.
Marciniak remembered losing to UConn in the 1995 title game – the Lady Vols had been favored to win – and telling herself it was OK because at least Tennessee got that far in the season. When the team returned in the fall of 1995 to Summitt’s practice court, Marciniak realized, “It’s not OK.”
The team did take the title in 1996 – the first of three straight – and that was when Marciniak ensured the current players that their day would come.
She also told a story about asking Summitt to meet her at the track for a private talk. Marciniak was going to be a senior leader and would be expected to handle media and television appearances. She was concerned about a stuttering problem when she got nervous.
“She was as kind and as gentle to listening to what I was saying,” Marciniak said. “And then she said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to get over that.’ From that point on she handed me the mike. I am a much better person today because of Pat Summitt.”
McCray, who also didn’t play her first year because of Prop 48 and went on to academic success at Tennessee, had an issue with time. She rarely kept up with it.
“I really had trouble with time,” she said.
When her mother and aunt dropped her off at Tennessee, Summitt noticed the player wasn’t wearing a watch. She asked McCray’s aunt to give hers to her niece, and she did, but it didn’t help. McCray was repeatedly late for classes or missed them entirely.
Warlick called her one afternoon and told her to come to Summitt’s office that evening, which meant McCray had hours to fret, as the other players nodded in agreement.
When McCray arrived, she learned Summitt was too mad to even meet with her, so Warlick chewed her out.
“It really started to click,” said McCray, who vowed to start paying attention to clocks.
When it was Stricklen’s turn to talk, Jolly spoke up first, “She’s a current player. Be careful.”
Stricklen took the mike, walked to Summitt and got on her knees to beg for the locker room privileges to be restored.
Stricklen returned to her seat as her teammates cheered and said she had learned in her first year that “you’re going to do it the Tennessee Way no matter what. She really pushed me. I thank her.”
She also addressed the first round NCAA loss to Ball State.
“I don’t think that will ever happen again,” Stricklen said.
Stephens, now LaShonda Stephens Tucker, was the last player to speak. She also learned that there are no excuses for missing a class. She got permission from a professor to miss a class so that she could type a paper for another class, but she didn’t clear it with Summitt.
Stephens said she was “typing away” in study hall when she heard that Summitt needed to see her before practice. Stephens figured the professor’s clearance was an out.
“Everything is good I think,” Stephens said. “Here she comes at me 25 miles per hour. She let me have it. Instantly tears started rolling.”
Usually it was Elzy and Niya Butts drawing Summitt’s ire. Stephens had some general remarks directed her way about post players, but “that was the first time she yelled at me directly.”
Stephens missed the requisite one game but then played the best game of her young career the next time out.
Stephens said she finished that game thinking, “Maybe this yelling thing might actually work.”
Warlick and Caldwell then returned to the stage decked out in jeans, T-shirts, bandannas and sunglasses as they got ready to depart for their weeklong motorcycle ride.
They noted how all the bad stuff in the stories was directed at Summitt, not them.
“Let’s talk about us,” Caldwell said, as the two plugged their upcoming TaTa Tour 2009 – Champions for a Cause – to raise money for breast cancer treatment and research. They left to applause and were replaced by surprise guest Wendy Larry, the longtime coach at Old Dominion, and the only one on Sunday’s program who was not a former Lady Vol player or assistant.
Larry, who took the stage wearing an orange blouse, and sporting an orange purse and orange-and-white tennis shoes, told Summitt, “I am here to represent all the coaches in the world who are absolutely in awe of what you have done.”
Larry did take exception to Jolly’s statement about 1997 being a tough year for the team.
“No one had a rougher year in 1997 than Old Dominion in Cincinnati,” Larry said.
ODU upset Stanford in the semifinal of the Final Four but fell to Tennessee, 68-59, behind 24 points from Holdsclaw in the title game.
“I told everyone in Norfolk to never wear orange again,” Larry said.
Larry broke her own rule in 2009 – she joked she first tried the sanitation and corrections departments but they didn’t have orange jumpsuits to loan – so she went to a Macy’s in Norfolk, Va.
Her salesman, who has known Larry for years, was shocked.
Larry held up the orange purse and said, “I left the tags on so I could return everything.”
The salesman tried to assure her that the purchases would be OK.
“He said, ‘Wendy, orange is in,’ ” Larry said. “Coach Summitt, you will always be in, because you’re the best.”
Summitt and Larry then exchanged a heartfelt hug, and Larry officially introduced her to the crowd, which responded with a standing ovation.
“I don’t know where to start,” said Summitt, who first thanked everyone who attended – the historic theater was nearly at capacity – and all the Lady Vol fans.
“To the greatest fans I want to thank you for giving us a wonderful opportunity and stage for these women,” Summitt said.
She asked her family to stand up – they took up most of the front row on one side – and she singled out Hazel Head for her support and love.
“My brothers always try to coach, and it drives me nuts,” Summitt said.
Summitt also saluted her current staff, especially Dean Lockwood, the lone male member.
“Dean, I don’t know how you put up with all these women all the time,” Summitt said.
Summitt had Margaret Hutson stand up and be recognized – Hutson coached the Lady Vols from 1971 to 1974 and then decided to step down, opening the door for a young Pat Head to begin her career while going to graduate school and teaching physical education classes. With Cronan, who coached two seasons in 1969 and 1970, Hutson and Summitt in attendance the three living Lady Vol coaches were present for the event.
Summitt also thanked the administration – she noted she had coached in three gyms with eight different university presidents in her 35 years – and singled out those responsible for the event. She thanked SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for attending. She also mentioned Kerry Howland, who handles academic support, Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, and Heather Mason, the head of strength and conditioning.
“Heather Mason is the toughest coach on the UT campus,” Summitt said. “Stay away from her. Players, get with her.”
She told the players they might get back in the locker room by Christmas. She also said all the players – current and former – become her daughters.
She thanked her son Tyler, who is about to graduate from Webb School with honors and will attend Tennessee, for teaching her more than she taught him and called him “her rock.”
She told the story about her father, Richard Head, who was known as a strict disciplinarian who did not show emotion, crying after the team won the 1996 title.
“He said, ‘Somebody knows how to coach. I don’t know if it was Al, Holly or Mickie, but somebody knows how to coach,’ ” Summitt said.
The next morning he summoned her to his hotel room. He had heard the stories about how harsh and demanding he could be with his daughter.
“I just want to tell you I love you,” Summitt said her father told her. “And he gave me a kiss. And he said, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore about that.’ ”
Summitt ended her remarks with a reminder to the audience to tell people they love how they feel every day.
Cronan said one of Summitt’s lasting achievements will be her effect on Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that opened up athletic opportunities for girls and women at institutions that received federal funds.
“There is not anybody that I know that has had a bigger impact on Title IX,” Cronan said. “This is more than about basketball wins.”
Summitt took the time for media interviews backstage after the event and her voice still echoed the emotions of the day.
“I enjoyed it tremendously,” Summitt said. “Us coaches, you don’t really stop and reflect. You’re always worried about the next day or the next practice or the next game. It was very touching. I didn’t know what to expect. I just spoke from my heart. We’ve just had such great support.”
Summitt laughed at the stories of some of her punitive approaches to losses, though Fetzer, the first point guard, remembers a gentler Summitt that first year.
“She wasn’t at her peak (of intensity). She was good to us,” said Fetzer, who attended the event with teammate Cindy Boggs, who is now a math teacher in Tennessee. “When I talk to my students they say, ‘Oh, Miss Fetzer, you know Pat Summitt?’ I say, ‘I do.’ ”
Summitt definitely has mellowed from her years of sometimes unbridled intensity and cites the birth of her son and the death of her father as events that changed her outlook.
“Just being a mother I think he helped me,” Summitt said. “I think I did turn the volume down, pick and choose, and then losing my father.”
But Summitt, who will be 57 years old next month, also isn’t easing off the coaching pedal.
“I’ve been on a mission and I’m going to stay on that mission,” Summitt said. “I’m going to continue to recruit, inspire and teach at the highest level.”
But Sunday was a day to reflect on where she had been.
“I was thinking about each team and what I remembered about players on the team,” Summitt said. “All of them have a story but also I have memories of their stories because I was there with them. I was very touched to hear the stories and to go down memory lane and to see what so many of them took from the program.”
She especially enjoyed hearing about her players’ doughnut run after the brutal practice.
“I thought it was hilarious,” Summitt said. “Dr. Johnson called me and said, ‘What were you doing?’ I said, ‘We were practicing.’ He questioned it and I said, ‘Dr. Joe, they’re going to class and then they have the rest of the day off and tomorrow.’ He was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”
Summitt was upset about the invective directed at Roberts when she fouled out of the Ole Miss game, but she still had to send a message that retaliation was not allowed.
“I was mad at her but after the game when I knew what happened I was livid,” Summitt said.
Summitt was touched by Larry’s appearance and didn’t learn of it until the last minute.
“It’s awesome,” Summitt said. “She is funny. She’s got a great sense of humor. I think when you have coaches like Wendy and hopefully like myself or Melanie (Balcomb) or Andy (Landers), when you’ve been in it as long as we have you have to keep it in perspective. You’re not going to win all the time. We’ve been in it so long, and we’ve developed a friendship through the game of basketball.”
Summitt enjoyed the DVD clips of her story, which included tales of her showing cows at 4-H and barrel racing horses until she got thrown through a fence. The DVD includes vintage film and photos from her childhood of the family and the farm in Middle Tennessee. When her home county ended the girl’s basketball program in Montgomery County after a tragic accident in which a player ran into a wall and later died, Patricia Head thought basketball was over for her.
The family had just built a new brick home, but Richard Head moved the household to Cheatham County, where the family owned a general store, and into an old house with no heat that was next to the store.
“We about froze the first winter,” Hazel Head said on the DVD.
Summitt said on the DVD that the move set in motion her life in basketball.
Summitt will spend this week fretting that two former players are on motorcycles, and she won’t be at peace until they safely return.
Despite Stricklen dropping to her knees, Summitt isn’t ready to open the locker room doors.
“I have thought about it,” Summitt said. “I’m going to wait and see how they start practice this fall. They’re going to have to show our staff that they have learned and that they are going to be invested.”
Summitt was especially grateful for the former players who took the time Sunday to direct their remarks at the current players in the audience.
“I was glad that we had some (current) players here because I do think it’s important, just like I think when this documentary is complete that they see it,” said Summitt, who added it is one she will watch in retirement “when the next coach is at Thompson-Boling Arena.”
“Because they were so young and naïve at times and they never had to compete at the level of intensity that it takes to win championships and win games,” Summitt added. “They struggled from one game to the next. They might have a great game and then they might have a letdown. But understand the competitive fire should never burn out when you have on an orange uniform.
“I think they’ll get it. They saw women that had been successful that wore the uniform here. It was a special day.”