By Giana Pirolli | Sports Writer
The Lady Bears honored former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt on Jan. 20 before their matchup with Kansas State at the Ferrell Center. It was a small way of showing appreciation toward this inspiring former basketball coach.
Summit died in 2016 after a hard-fought battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She certainly made a mark in the NCAA collegiate sports world, but her memory has brought awareness of Alzheimer’s to a younger generation as well.
When Baylor played Kansas State on Saturday, both teams honored the legendary coach by wearing t-shirts in support. The shirts read “We Back Pat” and symbolized the effect she had on women’s basketball. Though many coaches and teams admire all that Summitt did, Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey’s personal relationship with Summitt gives Baylor another level of appreciation for the coach.
Summitt was the head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball team and is arguably the best women’s basketball coach in all of NCAA history. Not only did she led her team to eight national championships, she led her team to 18 final fours. Her list of accomplishments goes on, from .913 winning percentage at home and 100% graduation rate amongst her players who completed their eligibility at Tennessee.
In addition to all of her accolades, Summitt was admired by many because of her personality. Even her top competitors, including Geno Auriemma, head coach at the University of Connecticut, respected Summitt’s work ethic.
“She was the one that everyone tried to emulate. That was the program everyone tried to be,” Auriemma told the Denver Post.
Mulkey said she admired Summitt’s intensity in all aspects of her life, including as a mother.
“She was a devoted mother to her son, an intense coach, honorable person, fiery in her younger days. She was not afraid to challenge officials or challenge players because she expected the best from them. She was the best you would want a coach to be,” Mulkey said in a 2016 interview with the Baylor Lariat.
Mulkey’s relationship with Summit began when she was a player on Summitt’s 1984 Olympic team, and continued as they became rival coaches on the collegiate world.
The “We Back Pat” was started in the 2011-2012 season. It was 2011 that Summitt announced her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Since the start of this initiative, many programs have participated in supporting Summitt in the “We Back Pat” movement, including schools like Harvard, Villanova, and University of Rhode Island.
The goal of the “We Back Pat” is to raise awareness to Alzheimer’s while also honoring the incredible person Summitt was and all of the people she inspired. Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. With the increasing number people becoming affected by this disease as every 66 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed by this disease, it is possible that initiatives like “We Back Pat” will help to find a cure.