Summitt steps down after taking women’s sports to next level

Quick, name the winningest college basketball coach in the history of the game.

Dean Smith? Sorry, Tar Heel fans, but the Dean of college basketball ranks fifth on that list.

Coach K? No way, Cameron Crazies. Despite passing Bobby Knight on the list last year, he’s still eight 20-win seasons behind the runaway No. 1.

That’s Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt, who officially stepped down after 38 years as the Lady Vols head coach, and as a true pioneer in the sport.

Summitt got the job almost by default as a graduate assistant in 1973, an era when women were making a fraction of pay as their male counterparts in virtually every profession.

Making $250 month while taking the team on long bus trips and working on her matser’s, Summitt unknowingly was changing the landscape of college sports.

This came at a time when Title IX was still a pipedream. While many women were protesting, Summitt was doing the dirty work of earning a place among her male peers.

Her rural upbringing on a dairy farm in rural Tennessee made her a strict disciplinarian who held her players to the higher standards than the men’s teams at UT.

Hard work and the assurance that Summitt would be there to both push and support them, the Lady Vols became synonymous with excellence.

Thirty-eight seasons, 1,098 victories and eight national championships later, Summitt decided to step down because of her public bout with early Alzheimer’s and dymnesia.

She’s actually stepping aside more than down, staying on as the head coach emiritis to continue to help the team and her coaching staff. Summitt loves and needs that contact, so we haven’t seen the last of her.

But we have seen the last of her kind, a pioneer in women’s sports that helped create a level playing field not by filing lawsuits, but by proving her and her players’ worth on a national stage.

She may never earn the level of fame as Smith, John Wooden or Adolph Rupp, but she had a greater impact on her sport than those three legends combined.

Summitt came around at a time when you couldn’t find a women’s basketball game on TV and left as it has a lucrative TV contracts with ESPN that pours millions of dollars into the coffers of colleges.

She came along when the Lady Vols were vying for court time and fans at the tiny Stokely Athletic Center and leaves with a team playing in and filling up a 27,000-seat arena named the Summitt Center in her honor.

Most importantly, she came along at a time when female athletes were treated liike second-class citizens and leaves as women’s college sports are at an all-time high in popularity.

You’ve come a long way, baby, but don’t forget that it was Summitt who led today’s female athletes to the summit.

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