The Letter That Changed Women’s Basketball

 

In 1974, Pat Summit received a letter that may have very well changed women’s sports forever.

Summit, who had recently graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin, accepted an appointment as a graduate assistant for the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Only two weeks after accepting the appointment, Summit received a letter from the head of the Physical Education Department, Helen Watson, asking her to serve as the head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee.

Only 21 years old and in the midst of preparing for the 1976 Summer Olympics, Summit accepted the position. Summit helped to create a name for women’s sports when she led the Lady Vols to eight National Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships and more than 1,000 victories over a 38-year span.

Co-captain of the United States Women’s Basketball Team at the first women’s Olympic basketball tournament in 1976, Summit earned the Silver Medal only two years after accepting the position.

On Monday, 21 March 2014, ESPN featured a women’s basketball game while the opening game of Major League Baseball was shown on ESPN2. Many believe ESPN’s decision to air a women’s basketball game over a men’s baseball game can be directly attributed the letter Summit received 40 years ago.

Summit received an Honorary Doctorate from the United States Sports Academy in 2008, a Distinguished Service Award in 1993 and the Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award in 2011 for her long-term contributions to women’s basketball and the world of sport.

 

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