Legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summit shocked the sports world on Tuesday when she announced that she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, a progressive condition linked to Alzheimer’s disease that can potentially impair memory, language, judgment, and behavior.
According to Summit, after addressing “some ongoing concerns” regarding her health at the end of the 2010-2011 season -- months of erratic and uncharacteristic behavior that often led her to second-guess her own decisions on and off the court -- she later underwent a series of tests at Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, where she received the unsettling diagnosis.
Admitting that her initial reaction to the news was anger, then denial, Summit told the Knoxville News Sentinel that now she’s more determined than ever to get back in the game, and assured her team and supporters, “There’s not going to be any pity party. And I’ll make sure of that.”
Summit, 59, will continue to serve as head coach of the
University of Tennessee women’s hoops team while undergoing treatment, relying
on her coaching staff “like never before” to help lead the Lady Vols to victory
in the coming years. Coach Summit is ranked as the all-time winningest coach in all of NCAA basketball history - for both men and women, across all divisions.
“Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days,” Summit stated via video message. But it’s apparent that despite those limitations, retirement was never an option; a sentiment that has been echoed all the way up to the interim athletic director, Joan Cronan.
“I’m comfortable because I know her as a person and I know her as a coach,” says Cronan. “And I feel like if it wasn’t the right thing for her or us, she wouldn’t be going forward.”
Cronan acknowledged the possibility that the program could suffer a blow to its recruiting efforts, and didn't know how long they’ll be able to attract athletes eager to play under the legendary coach’s tutelage. However, she noted that Summit’s staff -- Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick, and Dean Lockwood -- have a combined 89 years’ worth of their own experience to tout.
So, as Coach Summit stated, there won’t be any pity parties - just celebrations of more and more W’s to come.