In her profession, she was the greatest of all time.
Pat Summitt spent 38 years coaching the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers (Vols) women’s basketball team. For one of those years, the Wyoming Area girls basketball team was a part of it. While Summit passed away Tuesday, June 28, the memory of her legendary status resonates throughout Greater Pittston. Summit was 64.
Then-Wyoming Area coach Kathy Healey, who now coaches at Pittston Area and has also coached at Seton Catholic, has been taking her teams to camps at colleges throughout the country for many years. Most recently, she took the Patriots to the West Virginia University and the University of North Carolina.
In 2005, the Warriors traveled to Summitt’s camp at the University of Tennessee.
With the camp staring at noon, the team showed up to the gym at 10:30 a.m. with T-shirts donning Summitt’s face and the phrase “800 wins.” The coached posed for photos and signed autographs for everyone on the team.
“We were in awe with who she was, but she was down to earth,” said Healey, who recently spoke to her girls about Summitt’s impact on the game. “She talked to the kids and she was this super personable person.”
Healey’s teams have always taken a few pages from Summitt’s book, including ending each practice by standing in a circle and touching sneaker to sneaker.
“If you’re a family, no one can break your bond,” Healey said, quoting Summitt. “No one can break in because you’re family.”
Summitt won eight national titles and more than 1,000 games in her coaching career. Her 1,098 wins are most by any Division 1 basketball coach, male or female. She and her team made 31 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
It’s the fight for women’s equality, Healey said, that has the lasting impact.
“Without Pat Summitt, women we would be stuck somewhere else,” she said. “That impact she had to fight for girls to be equal in everything — in life, not just basketball.”
Healey began her coaching career as an assistant at Seton Catholic for eight seasons under Maggie Pace. She then became head coach of the Eagles prior to taking over the Wyoming Area program for four years. She will be entering her sixth season with the Patriots.
The local coach certainly has had her fair share of special moments in her coaching career. She currently sits at 328 career wins at the high school level and recently won her first district championship.
Wyoming Area girls basketball coach Chad Lojewski, who has been coaching in the girls ranks most of his career, said the sport owes a lot of credit to Summitt, along with University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.
“She had a commanding presence,” said Lojewski, who never met Summitt personally. “There was just a fit there in Tennessee. She wanted to make an impact and she did.”
In 1974, when Summitt was just 22, she was named head coach of the Lady Vols. At the time, the NCAA did not recognize women’s basketball. As the head coach, Summitt drove the team van and washed uniforms. It wasn’t until 1982 that the NCAA took women’s basketball seriously. Six years into its existence, Summitt won her first title in 1987 – she was off and running.
“It’s amazing to see how far the sport has come,” Lojewski said. “She paved the way for coaches like (University of Notre Dame’s) Muffet McGraw and (Baylor University’s) Kim Mulkey.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick