SIMPLY THE BEST NO MATTER WHAT SPORT OR GENDER: PAT SUMMITT
Pat Summitt's final season both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring
Pat Summitt is no longer the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
That is going to take some time to sink in. It's unfathomable to think of Tennessee without Summitt.
But everything that's happened in the past eight months surrounding Summitt has been unfathomable.
A coach cut down in her prime. The epitome of strength and fight, weakened and debilitated as her last season wore on.
Summitt, one of the most impactful coaches that sport -- any sport -- has ever seen, announced Wednesday that she is stepping down. She will assume the role of Head Coach Emeritus. Her longtime assistant Holly Warlick, who took on the public role during last season, will become head coach.
Ever since Summitt announced in August that she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, the season took on the feel of a farewell tour.
This moment became increasingly inevitable, day by heartbreaking day.
The progress of Summitt's disease was undeniable. By December -- just four months after her public declaration -- when her team came to visit Stanford, she was holding onto the press table to steady herself. The dragon lady sideline persona was missing.
It's been heart-wrenching to witness, even from afar. I can only imagine the pain suffered by those closest to Summitt -- her assistants, her players, her son, Tyler. We saw a glimpse of it last month, on the night that Tennessee's season ended -- a night that many suspected would be the last for Summitt -- when Warlick broke down in tears in the postgame interview. Her pain was so sharp, it took my breath away.
By then the next announcement was obvious. Summitt would have to step down, for her own health, and also for the program that she loved and created with her own strong hands. There were too many questions, too many distractions, too many tears. It wasn't what anyone wanted.
But Summitt -- who bravely decided to continue coaching despite a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's -- accomplished so much in these last few months. For those who have never been touched by the horrible disease, she put a face on it. She showed the world the devastating effects. We watched her deteriorate, this proud, fierce, compassionate woman who ruled her sport for so many years.
There were moments of love and outreach along the way. Public, like when her bitter rival Geno Auriemma hugged her at the women's Final Four. Private, as when a respected sports journalist asked to thank her for all her access over the years and found himself breaking down in tears, with Summitt comforting him.
Summitt was honored as SI's Sportswoman of the Year in December and in Denver at the Final Four. She is stepping down just weeks before the 40th anniversary of Title IX. She reshaped the athletic hierarchy, becoming the winningest coach -- male or female -- in history. She put an early face on women's athletics, women's strength and determination.
And she put a face on something more this year.
Her legacy was already as rich and deep as any in sport. In the past eight months, she has added a deeper, human layer. Pat Summitt has showed us how to win. How to lose.
And how to fight.
Pat Summitt steps aside as coach
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt is stepping aside as Tennessee's women's basketball coach and taking the title of "head coach emeritus," with longtime assistant Holly Warlick being promoted to replace the sport's winningest coach.
The 59-year-old Summitt will report to the athletic director and help the women's program she guided to eight national titles. She said she supports Warlick, her assistant for 27 years and a three-time All-American who played for Summitt, as her replacement and wants to ensure the stability of the program.
The move comes less than a year after Summitt's diagnosis with early onset dementia-Alzheimer's type.
"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," Summitt said.
"I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund."
Tennessee has scheduled a news conference Thursday afternoon in Knoxville with Summitt and Warlick.
Tennessee vice chancellor and athletic director Dave Hart called Summitt "an inspiration to everyone."
"It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball, and the growth of women's athletics nationally," Hart said. "She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt."
In a statement, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma praised Summitt, with whom he often had a testy relationship as the two coaches battled for recruits and wins in women's college basketball's biggest rivalry.
"Pat's vision for the game of women's basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did," Auriemma said. "In her new role, I'm sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women's basketball as a whole.
"I am thrilled for [Warlick] as this opportunity is well-deserved and Pat will be a huge asset to her moving forward."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer also credited Summitt for building the women's game throughout her career.
"Words cannot adequately describe the extraordinary career that Pat Summitt has had in the world of basketball," VanDerveer said. "She is a model of class and courage, and I don't think that enough can be said for just how much Pat has accomplished in building and elevating women's basketball to its current heights. Pat is Tennessee Basketball."
Duke men's coach Mike Krzyzewski called Summitt "a pioneer in basketball."
"Her amazing career accomplishments are among an elite group of leaders. Very few people leave a lasting legacy in their chosen professions and coach Summitt has done just that at the University of Tennessee and in women's basketball," Krzyzewski said in a statement. "She raised the level of commitment, pride and notoriety of her sport. I am honored to call her a friend."
Warlick, who came to Tennessee as a scholarship track athlete, walked on to the basketball team as a point guard and led the Lady Vols to the AIAW Final Four three times. She is the first new women's head coach at Tennessee since Summitt succeeded Margaret Hutson in 1974.
"I'm very thankful for all Pat Summitt has done to prepare me for this opportunity," Warlick said. "She is my coach, mentor, and great friend, and I am honored with the opportunity to continue and add to the great tradition of this program."
Hart said Warlick had earned and deserved the opportunity to take over the program from Summitt, saying she grew tremendously as a coach during the just-completed season.
"Under unique circumstances, the job she did away from the glare of the lights and crowds was as impressive as the job she did during game action, " Hart said. "Her mentor will be available for insight and advice, but this is Holly's team now."
Summitt revealed her diagnosis on Aug. 23, 2011, after a few months of trying to come to terms with dementia, which had caused her problems with memory loss both on and off the court during the previous season. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that destroys cognitive abilities over time.
With the blessing of university chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the Hall of Fame coach said she planned to continue coaching as long as possible. She also wanted to show the world that it was still possible to function, even in the face of dementia and Alzheimer's. She had been going about business as usual.
But with a need to devote more attention to managing her health, Summitt handed over more duties to her longtime assistants. This season, Warlick, as associate head coach, took the lead during games and handled postgame interviews, while the entire staff did the bulk of the recruiting and management of practices.
Even with Warlick and assistant coaches Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood carrying a larger load, Summitt continued to leave her mark through guidance and motivation with her trademark icy stare, even if she did wear the look more infrequently.
Summitt's diagnosis came during one of the Lady Vols' most disappointing stretches -- by Summitt's lofty standards, anyway. Tennessee hasn't won a national championship since 2008 and hasn't even reached the Final Four, which matches the longest such drought in program history.
Tennessee's five seniors were a part of the team that lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, the only time in school history the Lady Vols had bowed out on the first weekend.
Those seniors promised they would win a ninth national championship this season not just to change their legacy and to honor Summitt, but as center Vicki Baugh put it, "We're playing for everyone who has Alzheimer's."
They just couldn't get back to the Final Four, and the group of seniors wound up the first Lady Vols to miss the Final Four. They lost to eventual champion Baylor and Brittney Griner, a player Summitt couldn't convince to come to Knoxville, in the regional final.
At the women's Final Four in Denver earlier this month, Summitt received a standing ovation at halftime of the Baylor-Stanford national semifinal during a ceremony honoring current and former coaches of the U.S. women's Olympic team. Summitt led the 1984 team to a gold medal in Los Angeles.
Earlier that day, she had talked with and hugged Auriemma, for years her fiercest coaching and recruiting rival.
Auriemma said they talked about Summitt's foundation that supports Alzheimer's research and education, and the health of the Tennessee coach.
"She pretty much expressed that she's doing great and she feels good, that she's under great care, that she's being taken care of by the best people," Auriemma said at the time. "It was only a couple minutes, but I had told her that I'm sure that once the NCAA tournament is over, we'll get a chance to talk a little bit more."
“Pat's vision for the game of women's basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did. In her new role, I'm sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women's basketball as a whole. ” -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma
It's unlikely anyone will come close to matching Summitt's accomplishments in women's basketball, which has seen more parity in the past decade.
Summitt's career ends with a 1,098-207 record, 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and 16 SEC tournament titles.
During her time, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament, never received a seed lower than No. 5 and reached 18 Final Fours.
Her impact reaches beyond wins and losses. Every Lady Vols player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.
On the same day Summitt stepped aside, her son, Tyler Summitt, confirmed he has accepted a full-time assistant coaching position with the Marquette women's basketball team. Tyler played for the men's basketball team at Tennessee the past two seasons as a walk-on.
Little-Known Baseball Facts
Baseball, as we know it, has been around since the mid-1800s, but its roots date back to at least the 18th century and perhaps even further. Now the game is an integral part of the American fabric, right up there with Mom and apple pie. Little League has been bringing organized baseball to our youth since 1939, college baseball has been around for over 150 years, and the National League brought us our first major league game in 1876. More than 200,000 professional games have been played since. With all of that history and all of those baseball games being played at all levels, baseball trivia is almost as popular as the game itself.
There is a seemingly bottomless well of baseball facts, and many are common knowledge to Americans of all ages. Everybody knows that Roger Maris holds the Major League Baseball record for home runs in a season with 61 (don't get me started on the steroid era in MLB). We all know that with 27 pennants to their name, the New York Yankees have won the World Series more than any other team. We practically come out of the womb knowing that the Chicago Cubs haven't won a championship since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House.
But if you really want to impress the kids at the dinner table or while throwing the ball around in the back yard, try laying some of these little-known baseball facts on them.
Who played in the first game in Major League history?
On April 22, 1876, the Boston Red Caps beat the Philadelphia Athletics by a score of 6-5 in the National League. This might lead you to believe that the predecessors to the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics participated in this game, but that would be incorrect.
The Boston Red Caps began their existence in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings and were later known around town as the Beaneaters, the Doves, the Rustlers, the Bees, and the Braves. In 1953, the team relocated to Wisconsin and became the Milwaukee Braves. In 1966, they headed south and became what we know today as the Atlanta Braves.
The Athletics, meanwhile, were booted out of the National League in 1876 after failing to play a full slate of 70 games. The American League Philadelphia Athletics were conceived in 1901 and are the ancestors of our current Oakland A's.
Who played in the first college baseball game?
Amherst beat Williams, 73-32, in a 25-inning game on July 1, 1859, in Pittsfield, Mass. Back then, the game continued until 100 runs had been scored.
In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives declared Pittsfield as the birthplace of college baseball by way of U.S. House Resolution 1050. It's unclear how many of those members of Congress actually attended the Amherst-Williams game.
How many players have won the Little League World Series, the College World Series, and MLB's World Series?
Ah, trick question! The answer is none. Amazingly, only two players have participated in all three events, and neither one has emerged victorious all three times.
Ed Vosberg played for Tucson, Arizona, in the 1973 Little League World Series and was runner-up to Taiwan. Vosberg then played for Arizona in 1980 when they won the College World Series, and he was a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins, who won the World Series.
The other player is Jason Varitek, who played for Altamonte Springs, Florida, in the 1984 Little League World Series and was runner-up to South Korea. Varitek then played for Georgia Tech in the 1994 College World Series, won by Oklahoma. He won two World Series--2004 and 2007--with the Boston Red Sox which, as we now know, is not the same franchise as the Boston Red Caps.
What famous baseball player made it to the majors by being traded for a suit?
Denton True Young made his major league debut in 1890 after being traded for a suit of clothing.
I know what you're thinking. "Denton True Young?! You said he was famous!"
Well, Young was pitching for a minor league team in Canton, Ohio, when he destroyed the fences at the ballpark with his fastball. His teammates nicknamed him "Cyclone" since the fences looked like a cyclone had come through, and that nickname was quickly shortened by reporters to "Cy."
Cy Young went on to an illustrious 22-year career in the majors that resulted in his enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he is the namesake for the award given annually to each league's best pitcher.
Not a bad return on an investment of a suit.
Who are the shortest and tallest players in MLB history?
When 26-year-old Eddie Gaedel suited up for the St. Louis Browns on August 19, 1951, and had an official at-bat, he became the shortest player in MLB history, standing 3 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing 65 pounds. Gaedel wore No. 1/8 on his jersey and was walked on four straight pitches --all of them high-- in his only plate appearance.
The tallest player in MLB history is current New York Mets pitcher Jon Rauch, who stands at 6-foot-11 --or just a shade under two Gaedels tall.
(Your child might be tempted to answer this question with retired pitcher Randy Johnson, but the "Big Unit" is "only" 6-foot-10.)
Now, don't you feel smarter?