It has taken me a while to respond to the death of Pat Summitt. If you know me you know emotions and feelings are not my thing so bear with me. Since returning from Knoxville last week I have had time to sit back and reflect on how the coach loved by so many touched my life. I have heard countless stories about Pat the past few weeks so here is mine. Not many people know or remember the first time I met the late Pat Summitt but I will never forget it. It was January 2010.
I was a recently separated veteran going to school and working at Bemidji State University majoring in sport management. Go Beavers! I can’t remember the specific spring class but my teacher, Eric Forsyth, assigned a class project where we had to interview a professional in our desired career field. Of course, I could not do a simple phone interview. I wanted to talk to a basketball coach, in person, and I wanted the best and who was the best? pat Summitt. I wanted Pat Summitt. I did not know Pat Summitt. I never attended one of her camps. Honestly, growing up with two Haitian parent sports was never the topic of discussions and especially not women’s sport but I knew she had not one…not two… not four but eight national championships. Through some connections I made the previous summer, I reached out to Holly Warlick, Pat’s assistant coach at the time, and told her about my project. I was all set to come down to Knoxville and interview her, Holly that is. My trip to Knoxville ended up being just one leg of a month long road trip I ended up taking that semester. I’ll talk more about that in another blog. From the time Holly picked me up a the train station to being included in the team huddle to having Pat speak to me like I was the only person in the gym I knew Rocky Top was a special place and its leader was a special person.
Fast forward a few months later, after I presented my interview with Coach Warlick [that I slayed] I am searching for post-graduate opportunities. I knew I was going to grad school because I still had benefits left from my G.I. Bill so I started to follow up with coaches I met during my summer experience with Brandon Clay and PeachState Basketball [where any gym is home]. I narrowed my choices to two schools FSU and Tennessee to get out of negative 45 degree weather and be close to home. At the time Tennessee had a graduate assistant. Fortunately for me, my school expenses would be covered by my G.I. Bill so I called Holly up and told her I want to just be a sponge. Chance the Rapper said it recently…”when the praises go up, the blessings come down” and that is exactly what happened when a few weeks later I am following up and find out the current GA is leaving for a full-time job. Her spot was now available. Before I knew it, the day after my May graduation, my mom and I are driving from Bemidji to Knoxville in what my mom called a blizzard with all my stuffed packed in my 1996 Honda.
The first week I got on campus the coaches were on vacation but that didn’t stop Pat from introducing me to the way things were on The Summitt. I always joke and tell people Pat made me cry almost every day my first week and she did all while riding her bike to town from her beach house to use a phone. I learned quickly she was the best for a reason. She demanded excellence. Not just from her players but from everyone on staff from managers to trainers to secretaries. My first year was eye opening but I had a blast. The team only lost three games, how could I complain? I learned so much from Pat and the rest of the staff. That year I also started to unintentionally practice living and working my purpose. I didn’t know it then but I now know my purpose on this earth is to serve others and help them be the best person they can be. That practice came as my responsibility to assist then recruiting coordinator Mickie DeMoss. How hard could it be to recruit the nation’s best players to one of the national most accomplished programs? Well, any coach at any level will tell you that is it not that simple. I remember my first shot at helping land the nation’s number one recruit. Elizabeth Williams. A post player from Virginia Beach who was a force to be reckoned with on defense. As we prepared for Elizabeth’s official visit that included a trip out to Pat’s house for home-cooked food with homemade ice cream I remember Pat telling me, “These players take my crap and give me their all for four years, I expect them to use me for the rest of my life.” Though we were in a casual setting I knew Pat meant every single word.
Elizabeth went to Duke and though she didn't wear Orange I showed my love in Cameron a couple of times during her career.
I will never forget those words. Those words help me understand the reason why Pat was so loved and respected by her players. Those words are the reason why the professional and personal growth of every Lady Vol I had a hand in bringing to Rocky Top is one of my priorities. Those words were not just words. They were a declaration and testimony of who she was on and off the court. For every story you hear about a player getting the stare from across the court there is another story of that same player achieving her goals. Pat was hardest and best supporter. She told you like it is right before saying she loved you. There are many more stories I could share and stories I will only tell my kids and grand kids but this story has shaped my journey.
There are no words I could type to show the appreciation I have for a Champion who welcomed me into the Lady Vol family. There are no words I could type that will erase the day she announced to the team she had early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, my birthday actually. There are no words I could type to explain the heartache I feel for a legend who left us so soon after starting her battle. There are no words I could type because words are just that, words. What I can do and what I have done is continue her legacy with The Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Without her instilling confidence and the importance of relationships to success on and off the court there would be no Winning Edge. Winning Edge exists because I wanted a platform where resources and opportunities could be provided to promising young people just like Pat. I may not be a basketball coach after spending two years on Rocky Top but I’d like to think I am a coach in my own way. From the 161 Lady Vols to the managers to the gradate assistants and staff, we can all thank Pat for helping us be the best version of ourselves. The Winning Edge Leadership Academy is my way of saying thank you. Thank you Pat for believing in me and showing me that women and can and are successful in sports. Thank you for inspiring me to be excellent and leave behind my own legacy.