It was the end of a career that spanned 38 years and saw the head ball coach total 1,098 victories while hanging eight national championship banners with the Lady Volunteers.
“I can say for almost four decades, it has been a privilege to make an impact on the lives of 161 women who have worn the orange,” Summitt said during her announcement. “I am so proud of them, the Lady Vol student-athletes, and am honored to see them graduate and become successful young women. Together with these young women, a great staff, and a supportive administration, we will have taken a magnificent journey. We have grown the game of women’s basketball each and every day.”
Summitt spent her years on the sideline pioneering women’s basketball as a fierce competitor that strived for perfection, but her largest concern was that her players obtained their education.
During Summitt’s tenure at Tennessee she touched and impacted the lives of each young woman that stepped on the floor for the Lady Vols. Each student-athlete that played for Summitt for four years graduated. Maybe even more inspiring was that Summitt’s reach and care went well beyond her own team.
In November of 2006 and December of 2007, Spanish Springs girls basketball coach Christine Eckles took members of her team to watch the Lady Vols play Arizona State and Stanford, respectively. However, the Cougars received much more than just the experience of catching a game. Summitt invited the team down to the Tennessee pregame shoot-around and talked to the Spanish Springs players afterward.
“Everybody talks about how great Coach Summitt is and how classy her program is. And that’s exactly how they treated this little high school out of Spanish Springs that they knew nothing about,” Eckles said. “It was a great opportunity (in 2007). Coach came over and talked to us and talked to me which I thought was so nice. Her staff was so great to us. In fact, Stanford wouldn’t let us come to its (pregame) shootaround, but Tennessee did. Coach Summitt brought over the whole team and they were just very gracious to us. She came over and she talked. She talked for a little bit to the girls about being focused and said she hoped we had a great season and then she asked if we’d like to take a picture with the team. Our kids were just so excited.
“I just think it was fun for all of us. It was a good time and a good opportunity to kind of see one of the best programs in the country and to see what those athletes look like and kind of what a walk through would look like at that level. In my opinion, we got to see the very best with the Lady Vols. It was really great for our kids and it was really great for me. I’ve always looked up to Pat Summitt. I’ve read her books. I just like what she stands for in coaching. It was a great time. It’s a good memory that I’m sure I’ll keep forever.”
For the ex-Cougars’ players, the experience was one of a lifetime.
“That was literally one of the greatest days of my entire life,” said former Spanish Springs player Kallee Oxborrow, a 2010 SSHS graduate. “Just learning everything from her was great. I’ve always really looked up to Pat Summitt and to have that opportunity to meet her and speak with her was one of the greatest moments of my high school career and pretty much one of the greatest memories of my life.”
Meeting the legendary coach and the rest of the Lady Vols left many of the Spanish Springs players awestruck.
“I was in shock the whole time,” former Cougar Ari James said, another 2010 SSHS graduate. “I enjoyed the experience tremendously. I tried to take as many pictures as possible. What I remember most is just watching them practice before the game and just how enthusiastic she was. It was just a warm-up, like a walk-through, and she was still enthusiastic about it and encouraging her team and she got them really energized. It was amazing. It was great. It was a great feeling.”
While Summitt’s enthusiasm and love for basketball showed through, it was her message to the local prep basketball team that resonated with the high schoolers the most.
“I just remember her talking in general about how important school really is in order to be successful,” Oxborrow said. “She mentioned how she’s always wanted all of her girls to graduate and I think school is really important also. So it was just great to hear that athletics isn’t everything.”
As Summitt handed her whistle and the coaching reins over to Tennessee’s new head coach, Holly Warlick, and stepped aside into her new role as head coach emeritus, she made an oath to her Lady Vols.
“I made a choice early in my career to challenge myself, to step up my game each and every day,” Summitt said. “You can be sure I will take this same attitude into my new role as head coach emeritus and continue to teach our players the same commitment. I can promise you ladies, I’m here for you. Trust me that that will happen. The success of the Lady Vols will always, always continue.”
That promise stretches much further than the Smoky Mountains.