Be­fore the le­gend . . .

Be­fore Sum­mitt be­came a coach­ing le­gend at Ten­nessee, she was in for a cul­ture shock when she left the farm for col­lege

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS -

In an ex­cerpt from an up­com­ing mem­oir writ­ten with Sally Jenk­ins, Pat Sum­mitt talks about leav­ing home for col­lege for the first time.

Be­fore Pat Sum­mitt was an ar­chi­tect, she was a pathfinder. A bas­ket­ball player at the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee-Martin when Ti­tle IX was in­tro­duced in Congress — 41 years ago this week — she was part of a gen­er­a­tion of fe­male col­lege ath­letes and coaches to scratch a foothold out of what had been an al­most ex­clu­sively male do­main. The fol­low­ing ex­cerpt from Sum­mitt’s mem­oir, “Sum It Up,” writ­ten with Washington Post colum­nist Sally Jenk­ins, is a look at those fron­tier days.

I made a raw im­pres­sion at the age of 18. I was a frank, el­bowy girl wear­ing a home-stitched skirt and cheap shoes, with a ram­pant mane of hair that ended in a flip. I ar­rived at UT-Martin car­ry­ing one small “soup case,” which is how my soror­ity sis­ters claim that I said the word suit­case in my Ten­nessee hills ac­cent.

The moment I stepped into Cle­ment Hall, the women’s dor­mi­tory, I felt back­ward. My only col­or­ing came from fresh air; I’d never worn mas­cara or blush. All around me were women in bright cos­met­ics, their hair teased and sprayed. I’d heard that UT-Martin was a des­ti­na­tion for rich girls from Mem­phis and th­ese must be them, I fig­ured. They seemed im­pos­si­bly mon­eyed and made-up. There were prim girls in neat-but­toned cardi­gans, hip ones in bell-bot­tom trousers with sash belts, dar­ing ones in miniskirts and knee-high boots that showed off their trim legs.

I shrank when I looked down. The hem­line sewn by my mother fell be­low my knee, to mid­calf.

Even the way the other girls spoke seemed well-heeled. They talked with gen­tle lilts and they didn’t say “ain’t,” whereas I said “yon­der” and “reckon” and “done went and gone,” and I won­dered how Daddy would man­age back home in the fields all by “his­self ” — judg­ing by their man­i­cured nails, they’d never had dirt on their palms.

Back home, “Tr­isha” could bale hay and drive a trac­tor, but at Martin she was in­fe­rior, and a fig­ure of fun. I sought out Es­ther Stub­ble­field, whom I knew from play­ing against her in high school. Es­ther had grown up only 20 miles from me, but she was town reared one county over in Spring­field, which had a brick court­house and side­walks, so I viewed her as the height of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Es­ther greeted me warmly, but as she gave me the once-over, she re­al­ized how coun­try and naive I was. She de­cided to toy with me.

“You should sign up for Rus­sian,” she ad­vised me. “It’s an easy A.”

I had never been away from Hen­ri­etta, Tenn., be­fore, ex­cept for one overnight trip with the 4-H Club. The Martin cam­pus had fewer than 5,000 stu­dents and sat in a mod­er­ate-size town half­way be­tween Nashville and Mem­phis, merely a two-hour drive from home. It was hardly cos­mopoli­tan — but to me it felt as for­eign as the other side of the globe, and I was scared to death of it. So scared that the very first week­end, I ran back to the farm. I found a ride to Hen­ri­etta and walked through the door of our farm­house with my laun­dry un­der my arm.

My fa­ther said, “What are you do­ing here?”

I told him I just felt like coming back for a visit. But we both knew the truth: I was fright­ened.

“Look, I don’t want you on the road ev­ery week­end,” he said. “And the next time you come, don’t bring your dirty clothes with you.”

What he meant was, grow up. When I got a lit­tle tear­ful, he said, “I don’t want to hear any more about that.” So I went back to cam­pus and set about try­ing some­how to fit in. Slowly, hes­i­tantly, I tried to meet peo­ple.

But mostly I stayed on the mar­gin, dreading any con­ver­sa­tion that would be­tray my lack of so­cial skills. I’d never thought about how I sounded be­fore, but now when I heard my­self I de­cided I’d just as soon not speak. I clamped my mouth firmly shut, and I hardly opened it, stayed so quiet that no one knew my cor­rect name. Ev­ery­one just as­sumed that be­cause I was en­rolled as Pa­tri­cia Sue Head, I went by “Pat,” and I didn’t have the voice to say that no one ever called me that; my name was “Tr­isha.” But rather than speak up and hear the hick from Cheatham County come out, I let it go. So I be­came Pat. It sounded stronger, I de­cided. Learn­ing from Na­dine

The women’s ath­letic pro­gram, still in its in­fancy un­der the di­rec­tion of a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher, had a bud­get of ex­actly $500 for three sports: vol­ley­ball, bas­ket­ball and ten­nis. Martin’s bas­ket­ball team was barely de­serv­ing of the term “var­sity.” It had evolved from in­tra­mu­rals only a year ear­lier, and it still played the silly, ab­bre­vi­ated game — six play­ers to a side, with three play­ers from each team con­fined to each end of the floor — that was or­ga­nized girls’ bas­ket­ball in sev­eral states at the time.

Our uni­forms were plain, school-is­sued phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion gear that ev­ery­one wore to their gym classes, sleeve­less blue jer­seys of heavy cot­ton twill with navy shorts. We passed them out by size and we put nu­mer­als on them with ath­letic tape, un­til Na­dine Gearin, the coach of all three of the school’s women’s teams, got us some real ones.

Na­dine had a friend in the fab­ric de­part­ment of a lo­cal store who gave her a sheet of scrap felt. She cut out the num­bers and of­fered to sew them on, but we said, “No, we can sew ’em on our­selves.” But you could tell how few of us took home eco­nom­ics. They were the crookedest bunch of num­bers you ever saw. Some girls had their num­bers up around the neck­line, and some down around the waist. Some had one num­ber lower than the other. Es­ther was No. 21, and hers, of course, were per­fect. I was No. 55, and mine were pretty straight. My of­fi­cial team photo shows me with my long hair wound in a bun with strands fall­ing out, striped tube socks up to my knee pads, and high-topped Con­verse.

Na­dine was an un­paid vol­un­teer who gave us her time so that we’d have an op­por­tu­nity to play. She didn’t know a lot about bas­ket­ball — and she told us she didn’t know a lot. But she tried; she bought, at her own ex­pense, ev­ery book she could find about strat­egy, and to her credit she asked ques­tions. She’d ask, “Who do you think should play guard?”

Some­times our in­put wasn’t the most ded­i­cated or use­ful.

“Miss Gearin,” we’d say, “it’s fra­ter­nity rush this week and we’re sup­posed to be at the Pike house by 8. We need to stop prac­tice at 7:15 so we can get our makeup on and be ready.”

Na­dine would just say sweetly, “Well, okay.”

That was the state of women’s bas­ket­ball in 1970, and my start­ing point. There were no men­tors or so-called coach­ing trees for women, like there were for am­bi­tious young male coaches who grew out of the per­son­al­ity cults around leg­ends like Clair Bee in New York, Frank McGuire in North Carolina, Adolph Rupp in Ken­tucky, or John Wooden in Cal­i­for­nia. Nor were there rich re­gional play­grounds for women, like the school­yard net­work of Philadel­phia. But if Na­dine didn’t teach us much Xs and Os, she taught us re­spect and team­work, and she took us where we wanted to go. ‘Pretty Pat Head’ and the Pac­ers

We were so poor we didn’t even have a team bus. The Lady Pac­ers trav­eled in two bor­rowed sta­tion wag­ons, with Na­dine and a team man­ager be­hind the wheels. We’d cram three in the front seat and four peo­ple in back, and the tallest of us suf­fered the most. Imag­ine half a dozen girls, a cou­ple of whom stood 5 feet 10 or above, climb­ing out of a car with cramped legs and try­ing to play ball.

Our train­ing meals were bologna-and-cheese sand­wiches at a rest stop or McDon­ald’s. We didn’t stay in ho­tels — no money. In­stead we slept on mats on the floor of the gym where we played the next day. Our arch ri­val was Ten­nessee Tech over in Cookeville, a 215-mile drive, which meant a four-hour trip jammed to­gether in the sta­tion wag­ons. Then we slept stiffly in sleep­ing bags on the hard­wood floor of the Ten­nessee Tech field house.

What a frumpy, earth­bound, starved and sleep-de­prived lit­tle team we were, play­ing in dank, hu­mid gyms that reeked of in­dus­trial cleanser and floor var­nish and oint­ment, with a faint waft of hair­spray and per­fume un­der­neath fe­male per­spi­ra­tion. But I loved it, trea­sured the cheap uni­form that didn’t breathe, the damp jersey that got heav­ier the more I sweated, and couldn’t wait to tie up my clumsy flat-soled sneak­ers, made of can­vas with metal eye­lets for laces. We knew noth­ing about train­ing, or about our own bod­ies; ev­ery day of prac­tice was an ex­er­cise in cu­ri­ous self-dis­cov­ery.

Some­how in my first sea­son we went 16-3 to win the Ten­nessee state ti­tle. At the end of it we went back to Ten­nessee Tech for a tour­na­ment, in which all the women’s teams in the state con­verged for a sin­gle week­end. Af­ter driv­ing four hours to Cookeville and sleep­ing on a floor, we played six games in two days — two on Fri­day night, and then four on Satur­day. One right af­ter the other. With­out wash­ing our uni­forms. We got about 15 min­utes to rest be­tween games. By late Satur­day af­ter­noon, our knees were buck­ling. Na­dine dealt with it by crack­ing am­mo­nia sticks and wav­ing them un­der our nos­trils. We didn’t have con­di­tion­ing or weights, but we had am­mo­nia. If she thought I looked a lit­tle peaked, she would whip out one of her am­mo­nia pack­ets and break it open and thrust it un­der my nose un­til I wrenched my head away, my eyes wa­ter­ing. It ac­tu­ally worked, right up un­til our sixth game. We lost it to Bel­mont, and by then we were so weary we didn’t care, we were just ready to go home.

It hardly oc­curred to us that we were en­ti­tled to bet­ter, or more. Un­til, at the end of that sea­son, the UT-Martin ath­letic de­part­ment’s way of re­ward­ing us for win­ning the state ti­tle was to in­vite us to an awards ban­quet — for the men’s team, which that sea­son had won just three games. While we went 16-3, the guys had gone 3-20. Yet we sat for hours, watch­ing guys re­ceive plaques and awards and con­grat­u­la­tions for their ef­forts. Fi­nally, they paused the pro­ceed­ings to briefly in­tro­duce us. That was our recog­ni­tion: We got to stand up for a minute.

It was an era when sports pages didn’t cover women much, and if they did, they used terms like “the sex that burns the toast,” a phrase I ac­tu­ally read in an is­sue of Sports Il­lus­trated. The lo­cal pa­per was kind to us and gave us good cov­er­age, but on one oc­ca­sion it ac­tu­ally re­ferred to me — I prom­ise this is true — as “Pretty Pat Head.” Which I ac­tu­ally didn’t mind in the slight­est.

This may sound odd, but de­spite ev­ery­thing, those of us who played bas­ket­ball in the de­prived, for­ma­tive era of the early 1970s wouldn’t trade the ex­pe­ri­ence. In all the years af­ter­ward it gave us a pride of own­er­ship, a sense that we were the ar­chi­tects of our own game, and that our success was en­tirely self-earned; we’d never been handed any­thing. And there was a lot to be said for build­ing your­self from the ground up.

If we got any money from our univer­si­ties, it was a pit­tance, usu­ally be­stowed by a benev­o­lent, or not so benev­o­lent, male ad­min­is­tra­tor. Ath­letic de­part­ments of that era weren’t yet big busi­nesses, but rather fief­doms ruled by crew­cut former gridiron stars, most of whom thought any­thing spent on a fe­male in ath­let­ics came at the ex­pense of men.

We got more sup­port from our own fa­thers. At Martin’s games, you’d see our dads si­dle up to Bet­tye Giles, a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher who over­saw the women’s ath­letic teams, and press bills in her hand to help feed us or pay for our gas. My fa­ther was one of them. On more than one oc­ca­sion, Richard slipped a $100 bill into the purse of Miss Giles.

What lit­tle other money we had, we raised. At UT-Martin, we raked yards and had bake sales. Once, we ped­dled raf­fle tick­ets for a bi­cy­cle — I sold my share of chances but for­got to write down the names of the poor folks I sold tick­ets to. They never knew how they got cheated. Turn­ing a cor­ner in women’s sports

Three events in 1972 changed ev­ery­thing for us. First, a group of ded­i­cated women ad­min­is­tra­tors formed the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­let­ics for Women, be­cause the NCAA didn’t yet care enough about fe­males to bother with us. The AIAW stepped in to gov­ern women’s sports and es­tab­lished cham­pi­onships for us — in­clud­ing a 16-team bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment that was even­tu­ally re­placed by the women’s NCAA tour­na­ment.

The sec­ond big event was the an­nounce­ment that women’s bas­ket­ball would be an Olympic sport for the first time at the 1976 Sum­mer Games in Mon­treal. And the third, though we didn’t know much about it yet, was the pass­ing of Ti­tle IX, the lit­tle-no­ticed por­tion of the Equal Op­por­tu­nity in Ed­u­ca­tion Act that stated “no per­son in the United States shall, on the ba­sis of sex, be ex­cluded from par­tic­i­pa­tion in, be de­nied the ben­e­fits of, or be sub­jected to dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der any ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram or ac­tiv­ity re­ceiv­ing Fed­eral fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance.” Although it would be sev­eral years be­fore it was fully im­ple­mented, that leg­isla­tive phrase led to ath­letic schol­ar­ships for women.

What th­ese de­vel­op­ments did was to make win­ning avail­able to women. Pre­vi­ously, com­pe­ti­tion was a hobby — not a very so­cially ac­cept­able one. But now that there were tro­phies, gold medals and pres­tige on the ta­ble, in­ter­est in women’s sports surged. Ev­ery­one likes win­ning, no mat­ter what form it takes — and even older male foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tors had to re­spect an Olympic gold-medal sport.

I felt the ef­fects im­me­di­ately, and per­son­ally. Univer­si­ties aban­doned their ar­chaic in­hi­bi­tions and adopted a stan­dard­ized full-court game, in­clud­ing UTMartin. I could at last play five-on-five. I be­gan to tell peo­ple, “I want to play in the Olympics.”

I spent that sum­mer teach­ing my­self the full-court game. I got hold of a Fun­da­men­tals of Bas­ket­ball text­book from our phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment and stud­ied the di­a­grams. I went back to Hen­ri­etta and into the hay barn with my brothers, and we walked through sets — some­times us­ing a dog or a bucket as a stand-in.

In the fall, we took it all back to school. Na­dine let us put in our plays and run our own prac­tices and coach each other — Es­ther would cuss at me to de­fend or box out. “Quit pass­ing it; you need to be the one shoot­ing,” Es­ther would snap. We prac­ticed against six and seven de­fend­ers to make things more dif­fi­cult and as­signed dou­ble-teams so we learned to fight out of them. We came up with our own train­ing reg­i­mens and set our own curfew. When other girls were go­ing to the frat so­cials, we talked over game plans in the dorm and went to bed early. Olympic feats for a small pro­gram

The re­sult was a huge sea­son for a lit­tle team from Ten­nessee. We went 20-8, and qual­i­fied for the in­au­gu­ral na­tional cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment. A re­view of the box scores shows that I av­er­aged 19 points and 15 re­bounds a game, so the plays we de­signed in the hayloft must have worked. I car­ried us to the south­ern re­gional cham­pi­onship with an up­set of North Carolina when I scored 31 of our 54 points.

On March 16, 1972, the 16 most elite teams in the coun­try gath­ered for the first AIAW na­tional cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment in Nor­mal, Ill. It was a 500-mile road trip, but some­how, Bet­tye and Na­dine begged and bor­rowed the money to send us. Af­ter we won the state tour­na­ment in Knoxville, Bet­tye went to a drug store on the main drag and bought a large glass piggy bank and lit­er­ally car­ried it around on the street, seek­ing do­na­tions. For a snap­shot of the women’s game in 1972 imag­ine a full-grown woman walking around with a piggy bank, pan­han­dling for change.

Once again, we piled into those sta­tion wag­ons. It was a seven-hour trip to Nor­mal, where we ac­tu­ally got to stay in a mo­tel — sleep­ing four to a room. We were the only team there with­out proper uni­forms or warmups. In an old photo of the 16 teams, you can tell which ones we are: We’re bare-armed in sleeve­less jer­seys, with no jack­ets.

We didn’t last long. We won our firstround game over Long Beach State, but in the next we were put firmly down by Mis­sis­sippi State Col­lege for Women, 49–25. Still, it was an ed­u­ca­tion to be there, be­cause we got to see dif­fer­ent styles of bas­ket­ball, the best of which was the rev­e­la­tory up-tempo game of Im­mac­u­lata Univer­sity, the “Mighty Macs,” who went on to win the first of their three straight na­tional ti­tles un­der Hall of Famer Cathy Rush.

It was the high point of my col­le­giate ca­reer; UT-Martin never made it back to the na­tional tour­na­ment while I was there. But that brief ap­pear­ance was enough to crack a door open. I learned later that some eight-mil­lime­ter film of my per­for­mance made its way, thanks to Bet­tye and Na­dine, to the tal­ent eval­u­a­tors who would se­lect our Olympic team. Shortly af­ter­ward, a let­ter came in the mail.

It was em­bossed with the ini­tials “USA” on the top. Adapted from the book “Sum It Up,” copy­right © 2013, by Pat Head Sum­mitt. Writ­ten with Sally Jenk­ins. To be pub­lished by Crown Archetype, a di­vi­sion of Random House, Inc., on March 5. Reprinted with per­mis­sion.


FA­THERLY HELP: Pat Sum­mitt hugs her fa­ther, Richard, who made sure she stayed at UT-Martin. When she came home to visit, he said, “What are you do­ing here? . . . And the next time you come, don’t bring your dirty clothes with you.”



A LONG WAY . . . : The skinny girl known as Tr­isha stands in front of the hay barn where she played ball. TO THE OLYMPICS: In 1976, when women first played in the Games, Sum­mitt won a sil­ver medal.

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