• September 17, 2021

Tennessee’s senators honor Pat Summitt

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) paid tribute on the Senate floor to legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt Wednesday with heartfelt remarks. Summitt passed away yesterday morning after battling  early onset Alzheimer’s disease for several years. Their remarks in full are below.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) 

Senator Corker and I have come to the floor to introduce a resolution honoring the life and achievements of Pat Summitt, the former University of Tennessee basketball coach who died this week. She coached for 38 years and became the winningest basketball coach, man or woman, in Division I history.

I had the privilege of going to the White House with Coach Summitt in April of 1989. I was president of the University of Tennessee at the time. She had just won the national championship.

President Bush, the first President Bush, recited the usual statistics about Pat Summitt’s remarkable coaching career.

The president said in 13 years, she brought Tennessee to the final four 10 times—this was in 1989 long before she retired—winning it twice.

“Later on we’re going down to the fountain to see if she literally could walk on water.” That is what President Bush said of Pat Summitt.

So when it came time for Coach Summitt to speak, this is what she said, the winningest basketball coach in our country’s Division I history.

She said, “Mr. President, we’re honored and delighted to be here. I was extremely proud of our academic success. We have won two national championships in the last three years. But, the most important statistic for our team and our program is the 100 percent graduation rate of which we will hold our heads very proudly.”

Pat Summitt did everything by the book, and she made sure her players did as well.

She had some of the most remarkable athletes in any program in the country.

One of those was Candace Parker, who is still playing in professional women’s basketball. Candace, if I remember this right, there was finally a game when she got to play near her hometown in a Midwestern city, and so the whole town turned out – all of her friends, all of her family, everybody came to see a young woman who was then the most celebrated women’s basketball player in the country.

But Candace Parker had missed a curfew the night before by a few minutes, and so Pat Summitt sat her on the bench for the first half while her family, her friends and everybody who had come to see her play watched.

Everyone understood that’s how Pat Summitt did things.

She began her career when she was 22. She was paid $250 a month for that. She was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee.

For many, women’s basketball consisted of three women on one end of the court and three on the other. The NCAA didn’t even sponsor a national championship game at that time. But Pat invented really many aspects of the women’s college game, and what she didn’t invent, she taught to the rest of us.

It will be hard for people outside Tennessee to appreciate how much she became a part of us. She literally taught us the game. She was so up-front and personal about it all.

She introduced us to her players. She told us about their great abilities and successes. She told us about their failures and when they weren’t living up to their potential.

She invited us to go into her locker room at half-time and listen to her fiery half-time speeches.

She made time for every single person who touched her.

There are countless stories about that, but the best wanted to play for Pat Summitt because she was the best.

Tamika Catchings, still playing and retiring this year, one of the great players in women’s college basketball, was the women’s college basketball player of the year. She was in high school when Tennessee already had the best team and the best player, but Tamika wanted to go to Tennessee to play for Pat Summitt and to play with Holdsclaw because she wanted to be a part of the best team.

Tennesseans are very, very proud of Pat Summitt. We know that when the nation saw her, they might think a little better of us because she was one of us. She was a great friend, not just a friend of mine and our family, but of thousands of Tennesseans.

We honor her life. We honor that she lived that life by the book, that she taught so many young women how to live their lives by the book, that she brought out the best in so many of them and inspired the rest of us to think a little bigger for ourselves as well.

Four years ago at a young age, 60 years of age, suddenly she had Alzheimer’s disease. She confronted that just as well. And she set an example for the rest of us.

So for Pat Summitt, this is a day to honor a woman of style, a woman of substance, a farm girl who grew up to be the winningest college coach in the country and who by her example and by her life brought out the best in her players and set an example for the rest of us.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

I am so glad to join the senior senator from our state who has set such an example here in the Senate in recognizing and honoring Pat Summitt.

Basketball has lost a legend. As I’m sure [Senator Lamar Alexander] said, Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved daughters.

There is perhaps no one who left a more indelible mark on his or her profession than Pat. In her 38 years as head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, she amassed a historic record of achievement and blazed a trail for women across our country.

A farm girl from Henrietta, Tennessee, Pat attended the University of Tennessee-Martin, earning a bachelor’s degree and leading the women’s basketball team to two national championship tournaments.

Shortly after graduating, she accepted a position at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as the head coach of the women’s basketball team – at  22-years old.

The rest, they say, is history.

In those early years, Pat washed jerseys, drove the team van, and was paid, as Lamar just mentioned, $250 a month.

38 years later, she walked off the hardwood as the winningest NCAA Division 1 basketball coach in history, with 1,098 victories, eight national championships, 32 combined Southeastern Conference titles and zero losing seasons.

But if you asked Pat, there is only one number that she would point to: 161.

161 Lady Vols who had the honor of wearing the orange and white over the span of her career.

As she once wrote: “I won 1,098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades. But what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.”

And her influence on their lives was felt as much off the court as it was on it.

Every player who completed her eligibility at the University of Tennessee under Pat Summitt graduated.

That’s remarkable. Every single player. In 38 years. Think about that.

The impact she had on her players, the University of Tennessee, the Knoxville community, and the game of basketball will be felt for years to come.

In closing, as we look back on Pat’s life, I will echo the words of my friend and former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer who said: “Coach Summitt did not want a pity party. She said, ‘If you’re going to have one, I’m not coming.’”

So today, I join all Tennesseans in celebrating her life.

Celebrating the victories, the titles, and the relationships.

Celebrating a life well-lived and fight hard-fought.

I extend my thoughts and prayers to her son, Tyler, the Lady Vol family, and all those who were touched by her truly remarkable life.

Mr. President, than I yield the floor.


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