Job well done, Coach Sum­mitt

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“What­ever it is that you de­sire to do in life, have the courage and the com­mit­ment to do it, and to do it to your ab­so­lute best.” —Pat Sum­mitt

I lost one of my he­roes last week in the death of Pat Head Sum­mitt. I was born and raised in Ten­nessee, and went to the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee where she coached, which would nat­u­rally make me a fan. How­ever, the main rea­son Coach Sum­mitt was so spe­cial to me is be­cause through her I found what I ad­mired most in my late fa­ther.

My dad was the star of his high school bas­ket­ball team in Ken­tucky, but be­cause of his ser­vice in the Korean War he missed the op­por­tu­nity to try out for his beloved Ken­tucky Wild­cats. He was able to at­tend the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky af­ter the mil­i­tary and watched the Big Blue play bas­ket­ball from then un­til the end of his life.

I wasn’t as in­ter­ested in bas­ket­ball grow­ing up, but I was fas­ci­nated by my fa­ther’s love of the game. Dad poured the con­crete him­self to cre­ate a small bas­ket­ball court in our back­yard, where I learned the fun­da­men­tals of H.O.R.S.E. He at­tended high school tour­na­ments in Nashville, even when he had no kids in high school, and hung an NCAA tour­na­ment grid on the kitchen wall every year.

Dad also watched Coach Sum­mit. I was in­tro­duced to the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee Lady Vols as a young girl be­cause Dad re­fused to turn the chan­nel. Of all the bas­ket­ball games we had to en­dure him watch­ing, those in­volv­ing the Lady Vols made the big­gest im­pres­sion on me. That’s be­cause my tough, ath­letic, mil­i­tary dad was as in­ter­ested in girls play­ing as the boys. He never com­plained that women were slow or didn’t dunk, and he con­sid­ered Coach Sum­mitt one of the best in the game years be­fore any sports an­a­lysts said the same. Com­ing from a man who went to the UK when Coach Adolph Rupp was at the helm, my fa­ther’s ac­co­lades of any other coach— let alone a woman—was a huge com­pli­ment. “Through Dad and Coach Sum­mitt, I learned one of the most im­por­tant lessons in my life: it doesn’t mat­ter who is play­ing in a game, as long as they are play­ing the game. To be a true fan of a sport is to en­cour­age oth­ers to take part, and any­one who makes fun of any player for par­tic­i­pat­ing is not a real fan.”

Through Dad and Coach Sum­mitt, I learned one of the most im­por­tant lessons in my life: it doesn’t mat­ter who is play­ing in a game, as long as they are play­ing the game. To be a true fan of a sport is to en­cour­age oth­ers to take part, and any­one who makes fun of any player for par­tic­i­pat­ing is not a real fan. Even though I am not an athlete, I have taken the mes­sage with me through­out my life that as a woman I am good enough and wor­thy to com­pete.

You have seen the im­pres­sive records of Coach Sum­mitt, but I think the most im­por­tant thing she ac­com­plished was ac­tu­ally lev­el­ing the play­ing field, not just bas­ket­ball but every play­ing field. She helped women learn not to be ashamed to sweat, be ag­gres­sive, and steal the ball. She taught us to ar­gue calls that weren’t fair and de­flect passes that aren’t in our best in­ter­est, and how to re­bound when some­one else can’t make the shot. As play­ers in the Game of Life, women are every bit as im­por­tant as the guys, and I was lucky enough to be the daugh­ter of a man who un­der­stood that.

Thanks, Coach, and I hope you and Dad now get to shoot some bas­kets to­gether.

Melissa Carter is one of the Morn­ing Show hosts on B98.5. In ad­di­tion, she is a writer for the Huff­in­g­ton Post. She is rec­og­nized as one of the first out ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties in At­lanta and one of the few in the coun­try. Fol­low her on Twit­ter@Melis­saCarter

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