Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#423 The Summitt

One of the definitions of the word summit is “the highest point of attainment or aspiration.”  Pat Summitt, who died today at age 64, lived up to her name. 

I first met Pat when I was 16 and being recruited to play basketball.  The University of Tennessee was one of my official visits.  I don’t’ remember much about my visit besides going to a fast food restaurant on Halloween and seeing all kinds of crazy costumes, watching practice and sitting in her office listening to her talk.  I was incredibly shy and she was very intimidating.  Although, all coaches were to me then. 

The Auburn-Alabama rivalry is huge in the state of Alabama.  As a basketball team, we certainly wanted to beat Alabama, but our main rival during my four years was Tennessee.  We played them once in the regular-season and then we met three times in the Southeastern Conference championship (lost 73-70 in 1988, lost 66-51 in 1989, won 78-77 in 1990).  During that time, Auburn and Tennessee finished as either SEC regular season or tournament champions.  Amazing! 

Regular Season Champion(s)
Tournament Champion

We also met them once in the 1989 NCAA Final Four, losing 76-60.  Three times that year! 

The 1990 NCAA Final Four was held in Knoxville, but Tennessee didn’t make it.  I must admit that we loved the irony of the championship being held in Knoxville without them.  We also loved sitting in our hotel rooms and seeing Pat on local TV asking Tennessee fans to still come out to the games even though they weren’t playing. 

When I talk to others about that time in my life, I sometimes say that Tennessee was the team I loved to “hate.”  I put that word in quotes because I never truly hated them.  They were tough to play and you had to be at your best to beat them.  We worked harder.  Them being great made us better.  Simple as that. 

In the early 2000s I saw Pat at a Nike girls’ basketball camp in Indianapolis.  The camp was close to where I worked and I just popped over to check it out.  I saw Pat coming toward me down the hall and I mustered the courage to stop her and introduce myself.  (Even as an adult, she’s still a little intimidating!)  As I started to say, “I played at Auburn …” she replied, “I remember you Linda Godby.”  I was impressed.  I was tall, but not necessarily a star player. 

The last time I saw her was June 19, 2012.  She had announced her Alzheimer's the year before.  My office held an opening of its new building and invited individuals for whom meeting rooms had been named.  I had offered to volunteer and was assigned to the small group who spent time with Pat.  We all hung out in a meeting room for a while, just chatting and relaxing.  At this time, she didn’t like crowds much so we were keeping her out of the way until the dinner began.  Again, I introduced myself, saying that I played at Auburn.  She said she remembered me.  This time, I wasn’t sure that she did. 

Even though I competed against her for four years, I didn’t know Pat well.  I do know what she means to her players (some of whom I know).  I know what she means to basketball, not just women’s basketball, but basketball as a whole.  I know what she means to the empowerment of women.  The steely gaze – it’s for real, especially when you’re in the heat of “battle.”  She made the world a better place. 

Pat reached the summit on this earth, and now she has reached her heavenly summit. I hope God is prepared for that gaze ...

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