I’m looking at my newest basketball. A Nike ball with “Volunteers” emblazoned across the rubber. Volunteers.
Growing up, I played basketball. I played for ten years. I wasn’t always the best player on the court, but I loved the game. The pace. The adrenaline. I didn’t just love playing; I loved watching. I loved watching the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
I wanted to be a Lady Vol. I would go to my grandparents’ house and shoot hoops pretending I was on Pat Summitt’s squad. I pretended I played for the best basketball coach in the nation. Perhaps in history. Yes, in history.
Pat Summitt. She coached with this graceful fire. She pushed her team to be great on and off the court with her icy glare and competitive heart. And her teams were great. Worthy of 8 National Championship titles. One even worthy of a gold medal. And when she could no longer coach teams, she kept her fire and fought like a champion to beat her most formidable opponent.
I stood on her court where she coached for nearly 40 years, a court in her name. I had the privilege of speaking to Coach Summitt at a game last fall. It was an honor to even be in her presence. After the initial stammering, I managed to say, “Coach, I have been a fan for many years. I’m glad to see you here.” I could tell she was hearing me, but she wasn’t the coach I once idolized. It was hard seeing her in a sickly state: human.
We want our legends to be that: legends. Seeing her was a reminder that we are merely human and life is largely out of our control. But her resilience and faith were reminders that we have life worth living. And to win at life, we must live. We must make every shot, every day count to win.
Coach Pat Head Summitt dedicated her life to competition, to winning. Now, she has won the ultimate game. We remember her as a champion. And she lives now as a legend, as an inspiration. An inspiration to never give up. To support your team, whoever it may be. To have faith. To win.
Thank you, Coach Summitt.