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The Life and Faith of Pat Summitt

Credit: Wade Payne via AP

There will never be another Pat Summitt. Someone may come along and win more games, but her legacy consists of far more than wins on the court or trophies hoisted. Hall of Fame coach Pat Head Summitt, a pioneer of women's college basketball who guided the Tennessee Lady Volunteers to eight national titles in her thirty-eight seasons, died Tuesday morning. She was 64.

I grew up in the same town as Coach Summitt. It is impossible to overstate her prominence, but I highly desire to find a way of connecting with her—hence the reason I mentioned I am from her hometown. People try to find some way of associating themselves with her. This speaks highly of her character.

Her integrity coupled with her tenacity made individuals want to be connected with her in some form or fashion. Girls grew up wanting to play for her; guys grew up hoping they wouldn't have to play against her or her teams. You felt her glaring stare, were inspired by her tenacious spirit, and motivated by her unsatisfied yearning for more. "It is what it is. But, it will be what you make it."

She attended college at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she starred on the basketball court that now bears her name. She graduated as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,045 points. During her junior year in college, she played with the U.S. team in the World University Games. She won silver medals at the World University games, the 1975 Pan Am Games, and the 1976 Olympic Games. All of this while she was just starting her coaching career at Tennessee.

When she became head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974 at the age of 22, the NCAA did not even formally recognize women's basketball. Summitt drove the team van to road games and washed the uniforms. She fought for court time for her players against ordinary university students. She even made sandwiches for her team. She believed in the program and woman's basketball before anyone else.

But her love for the game also encompassed her love for and care of her players. All of the athletes she coached who completed their eligibility went on to graduate from the university. Her concern for them stretched past the courts and into their lives, which is epitomized by the outpouring of support that floods the internet upon the news of her passing.

She has courts named after her, countless streets honoring her, and a foundation that is fighting against the disease that took her from us. But according to Summitt: "I won 1,098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades. But what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces."

Tamika Catchings, who won two national titles with Tennessee, told CNN:

"We learned about what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to be a great woman, what it takes to be a great lady, what it takes to have character, what it takes to have poise." 

Even former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning weighed in on her passing. He consulted with her before making his decision to stay for his senior season at UT. "I miss her, and it's a very sad day . . . She loved everything about Tennessee. Everyone in the state was proud to have her as an ambassador. She had a huge impact on everyone she met. I always felt better every time I was around her."

The Pat Summitt Foundation began in 2011 "to help find a cure for Alzheimer's so that one day no family has to hear that a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease." Diagnosed in 2011 with early-onset Alzheimer's, Summitt insisted, "This is not a pity party. We're not going to sit here and feel sorry for Pat Summitt."

Summitt was a competitor, on the court and off. To her, "When you choose to be a competitor you choose to be a survivor. When you choose to compete, you make the conscious decision to find out what your real limits are, not just what you think they are."

On Tuesday, Pat Summitt reached her life limit, but her work goes on. She may no longer be here, but according to her: "God doesn't take things away to be cruel. He takes things away to make room for other things. He takes things away to lighten us. He takes things away so we can fly."

We are all feeling a little low because of her passing, but flying a little higher because of her life. She got us a little closer to a cure for Alzheimer's. She pioneered a path for women that previously did not exist.

You may not have known her, but you were indirectly blessed by her (Galatians 1:24). God wasn't cruel to take her away, but he was kind to share her with us for these past sixty-four years. We all have a little more room in our hearts because of her. Not because she is gone, but because her life expanded our hearts and ability to bless others.

There will never be another Pat Summitt, but I am proud to share the same hometown.

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