I wonder what kind of librarian – what kind of person – I’d be, if Pat Summitt had coached me. I wonder what kind of librarian Pat Summitt would have been. How might she have changed libraries, changed our profession, in the same way she changed women’s basketball and women’s sports forever? How would she challenge us? How would she push us? How would she make us see that we are never the best that we can be? That there’s always room to get better – to be better. To not simply settle for being pushed to the sidelines, but to stand up for the importance of our work. To constantly fight and change and fight and change, as is necessary, in order to push ahead.
I admit that this is a strange set of questions to be thinking about (Pat Summitt a librarian?!), but I’m a librarian and I so loved and admired Pat Summitt, and I grew up a tomboy and a gym rat and in the decades of great change in girl’s and women’s sports. And so these pieces come together for me this morning.
Pat Summitt, the legendary basketball coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols and honest-to-goodness trailblazer in girl’s and women’s sports, died this morning. She was 64 years old. I live in Massachusetts where women’s basketball is rightly dominated by the dominating University of Connecticut, but I grew up in Virginia and much closer to Tennessee. I played basketball in junior high and high school and I went to college when women’s basketball was just coming under the umbrella of the NCAA (it was still the AIAW during my freshman year). I am also closer in age to Pat Summitt than to the amazing players of today and so when I read the stories of her and see the video reels, I’m in tune with the trailblazer – the van driving, laundry washing, sandwich making Pat Summitt – and I note how far women’s sports have come from those days. And I’m grateful.
I had the great fortune to have a front row seat for a small part of those early days. I was a manager for the women’s team at James Madison University, coached at that time by another giant figure in the game, Betty Jaynes. JMU never played Tennessee during my years, but we did play Old Dominion and I got to see the likes of future Hall of Fame players, Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan, and their own great coach, Marianne Stanley. They wiped the floor with the Lady Dukes, but what an experience to be at those games.
I used to imagine playing for Pat Summitt. I was nowhere near a good enough basketball player to ever do so (I wasn’t even a starter on my high school team) and by the time I was imagining this, I was way too old for such a dream, but I imagined it all the same. I often wondered what it would be like to come under the tutelage – under the stare – of Coach Summitt. Mostly, I wanted to play for her because I am one of the most undisciplined people on the planet and I believe that if ever there was someone who could whip me into shape, it was Pat Summitt. I might be beaten down and die in the process, but still I wanted to give it a try.
It will never happen now. I mean, it wasn’t going to ever happen before today, either, but now it really won’t ever happen. So I’ll just have to keep on imagining it.
I think of Pat Summitt, Betty Jaynes, and Kay Yow. I think of Joan Benoit Samuelson, Roberta Gibb, and Kathrine Switzer. I think of Linda Cohn and Robin Roberts and Doris Burke. I think of Billie Jean King. Today, I think of these women who blazed trails for so many in a world still dominated by men. They have been role models to many, many young women and young men. And I’m grateful.
In a changing profession in a changing world, I’m remembering Pat Summitt and all of her fellow trailblazers today. I’m remembering that they changed the world for the better and that they can inspire me to do the same.