LESLIE CRISS: Lady Vol leader lauded for coaching, but also for courage

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I attended two women’s college basketball games last week – one at Mississippi State and the other at Ole Miss. Ordinarily, I’d be cheering for the home teams, but the Lady Bulldogs and Lady Rebels were playing the Lady Vols. And when Coach Pat Summitt’s girls are in the house, they get my support.
A friend from high school wrote on Facebook that she didn’t realize I was into basketball. She and I both went through high school watching the great Carol Ross, former Ole Miss coach and current WNBA coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, play ball.
And since the primary exercise we did in physical education was buffing the gym floor and picking up trash the day after a ballgame, I developed a vested interest.
But since high school, I’d not watched much women’s basketball, until I became a loyal follower of the Lady Vols and Coach Pat.
The games last week were the first I’ve attended since Summitt’s sad and stouthearted announcement last August that she’d received a devastating diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s type. At the same time she also declared she’d continue to coach her girls as long as she was able.
Since then, I’ve read stories and commentaries by sports writers who’ve claimed to notice a difference.
Last Thursday night inside The Hump, Summitt’s entrance drew loud applause. As we watched the game, it was obvious the Lady Vols’ head coach stayed seated a lot more than she has in the past. Honestly, she looked sad, a little lost. But perhaps we were just watching with different eyes.
Tears came when I noticed the Lady Bulldogs had “We Back Pat” printed on the maroon backs of their uniforms.
This past Sunday afternoon at the Tad Pad, the Lady Rebels followed suit, with “We Back Pat” on the fronts of their uniforms.
At Ole Miss when Summitt entered, the thunderous applause was coupled with a standing ovation. This had also happened before the diagnosis, so it wasn’t done out of sympathy.
I believe folks who’ve loved and respected Summitt for years simply love and respect her even more now for her courage, for putting such a public face on this disease that’s altered so many of our families.
On Sunday, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history (men or women), jumped from her chair multiple times to chat with her team and her coaching staff. She grimaced when the Lady Vols did poorly; she smiled and offered encouraging back pats when they did well.
It was a good day.
Here’s hoping she has many more.

leslie.criss@journalinc.com