When I was in middle school, I saw approximately 2-3 hours of play time as a point guard for my church’s team. I drug my little round short self up and down the court every week for practice, and I was always lagging behind the others when we would run.
When I was around the age of 12, I played with an official NCAA Women’s ball for the first time. I couldn’t believe how great it felt in my hands compared to the ones we had at home, a full size, and a junior ball. A friend of the family who was a coach gave me the new ball. This family friend also had an adjustable hoop – the first time I ever saw one, and I thought it was the best God send ever to my less than 5 foot self.
But we never got one of those. Instead, I had the hoop outside our house, situated between the master bedroom and the gravel lot. Lot is actually a misnomer. It was more like just enough gravel space to park approximately 1.5 cars. When I faced the basket, a steep bank with clay and pines rose to my right, briars and woods and snaky overgrowth stood behind me, and to my left was a long, long, gravel driveway that descended at a grade notorious for causing falls and slip ups and my first fender bender when I accidentally went too far back, slipped up, and then came up the drive again like a bat out of hell into the back of my dad’s car. Sorry, dad.
As an adolescent, through middle and high school, I recall lots of hours “shooting hoops” and playing horse. I also recall running down that hill a lot to try to stop the ball from rolling all the way down the driveway, across the street, and into the field/fence that sat across from us.
Perhaps it was all that ball chasing that motivated me, but I actually got pretty good at shots. I would go down to the gym at church and play horse and could make 3 pointers, foul shots, and do pretty well over all with getting that ball into that net. I wasn’t a bad dribbler, either.
I sucked at running. Layups were a joke. And I learned very quickly on that middle school team, that I was not an aggressive or defensive player.
Still, I loved basketball.
More specifically, I loved Lady Vol basketball, and their coach, Pat Summitt was an icon to me.
I spent hours upon hours pretending I was on the team, trying to make a shot for Pat. Pretending I was on the court with Chamique Holdsclaw, “Ace” Clement, Tamika Catchings, and Michelle Snow. We were facing, UConn, of course.
I spent hours cheering them on through win after win on my TV screen. They were so unstoppable. Until that National Championship loss, and the streak was over. And I was beyond disappointed. I was bewildered. How was this possible?
I never got to see “my team” in person, but somehow I felt connected with them. The dream team all graduated. Some went on to play for the WNBA.
My life changed. My parents divorced. I moved a couple hours away from home. I got into the music industry, and my focus shifted. I still managed to catch a game here and there, but never at that same intensity.
Life gets even busier, somehow, after college graduation, and I hardly ever caught a game. But then I heard something sad and shocking on the news – Pat had Alzheimer’s.
How was that possible? Surely not.
My biggest regret has been that I never went to a game. Never sat there in that arena and cheered my dream team or my dream coach on.
I can’t explain why I have cried more over Pat Summit’s death than I have over any other celebrity. Yet, somehow, hot tears still fall from my eyes as I write this.
I think, as I have reflected the past two days – that Pat was a constant for me.
Pat pushed hard, played hard, and inspired hard.
Pat inspired my non-athletic self to get out and move and do the best I could.
More than that, I wonder – no, I know –
that dream team and Pat Summit allowed me a space to be me. When I thought about being a Lady Vol in my fantasy world, I was just me – all of me. The writer, the singer, the lover of basketball and women, and the dreamer, and the goofball. And it was ok.
I was ok.
When I watched those girls take charge of the court, empowered and taught by Pat Summitt, I felt like they were unstoppable, and I felt like I could be unstoppable, too.
I felt empowered to be a woman. I felt like women could really make a difference, and if there’s anything Pat taught us and did, it was to teach us that gender roles and stereotypes and limitations are hog wash.
I like to imagine that as Pat’s spirit was lifted, she could see the impact she has made on people she hasn’t even met along with those who knew her best and were touched by her.
I know that if that is true, that she saw a candle over my head, especially the 12-19 year old me, that felt a little more empowered, a little more free, and a little more inspired to be a woman, and to get that ball through that net.
Now, at almost 35, I’m sitting here moved, inspired, empowered – and I think it’s time I go over next door sometime soon and get that ball in that net again. It’s been too long.
Pat, you can’t read this, but hey –
thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for the motivation. Thank you for being you and being the only you that ever was.
You never coached me in basketball, but you sure as heck coached me in life though those lessons you talked about, wrote about, and displayed on and off the court.
We’ll miss you. I’m so thankful you shined your light.
Forever grateful. With love always,