by Staff Writer Eric Creel
As the rain started to come down, thousands of people huddled in the entrances to Thompson Boling Arena. The crowds, consisting of government officials, local and national celebrities and Vol fans from all over, had gathered to celebrate the life of the winningest coach in Division I basketball history, Pat Summitt.
Event organizers estimated nearly 7,000 people were in attendance on Thursday, July 14 to pay their respects and honor the life of the legendary coach. Pat Summitt died on June 28 from her battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She was 64 years old.
Summitt’s son, Tyler, along with former players, assistants and former Volunteer and NFL Quarterback Peyton Manning took turns sharing their favorite memories and recounting moments spent with Summit.
The mood, while somber at times, was light hearted for the majority. Those in attendance laughed at tales of Summitt from some of those who knew her best, former assistant Mickie DeMoss and former assistant and current Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick. They recalled light hearted moments and told stories of Summitt being pulled over for speeding as well as being mistaken for an Ace Hardware employee. Even son Tyler shared a story about following his mothers advice and being more aggressive and attacking as a six year old playing soccer, only to point out that his position, that of the team’s goalie, should not have done so.
The event did have it’s more personal moments. Former player Tamika Catchings spoke of watching the Lady Vols on television and hoping that one day she would be good enough to play for Summitt. “She was the epitome of what being great is all about,” Catchings said of Summitt.
Peyton Manning alluded to the irony that a woman who had such a memorable life battled a disease that stripped her of her own memory. Manning, who spoke of Summitt’s draw with both male and female athletes alike at Tennessee, said he found it difficult to say goodbye to a true friend. “It is a rarity to attend a Celebration of Life
service for someone who literally changed history” said Manning. “She changed history for the sport she loved and sports in general.”
In addition to those who spoke, Summit’s life celebration was attended by coaching great Geno Auriemma of UCONN, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, former Tennessee football coaches Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors, as well as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and numerous others.
Pat Summitt’s career included 8 National Championships, 16 SEC Championships, 7 NCAA Coach of the Year Awards and a head coaching record of 1,098 wins to only 208 losses. Summit also garnered two Olympic Gold medals, the 2012 Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.