CULLOWHEE — In between last week’s visit to the Sydney Olympic Games and next week’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt paid a visit Wednesday, Oct. 4, to Western Carolina University.
Summitt, who has guided the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to six national titles during her 26-year tenure in Knoxville, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,200 in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center as part of the Chancellor’s Speaker Series at WCU. She also addressed an informal gathering of about 150 Western students, including several members of WCU men’s and women’s athletics teams.
At both sessions, Summitt shared her theories of how to succeed in life, and provided what WCU Director of Athletics Jeff Compher called “an inside glimpse into the locker room of life.”
Summitt urged the young people in attendance at both sessions to be choosy when it comes to making close friends. “Hang with winners,” she said. “Hang with good people. You hang with losers, and guess what? They’ll pull you down to their level. You’ll end up a loser, too. You can’t pull up a loser very often.”
In her pull-no-punches talk, Summitt said she was disappointed with the performance of the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team, even though this version of the “Dream Team” again claimed the gold medal. “Off the court, I like those guys. On the court, they didn’t play very well. They didn’t play as a team. And it really bothers me to watch people who are representing their country and who do not realize they should be playing with a sense of pride,” she said.
“I really have a problem with a lot of today’s professional athletes and their attitudes,” Summitt said. “They get to the pro level and they think they’ve arrived. People, you never arrive. It’s a temporary thing.”
Professional athletes are not the only role models for young people, Summitt said. “Everyone in this room is a role model,” she said. “It may be a younger sister, a younger brother, a younger kid down the street who’s been watching you and looking up to you over the years. Remember, you don’t just represent yourself. You represent your family. There’s a lot of responsibility living here on this Earth.”
Summitt urged both of her audiences to not take anything in life for granted and to always strive for the next level of achievement in every endeavor. “I’ve got a feeling that not everyone in here has overachieved,” she said. “Too many people are born on third base, and they spend their whole life thinking they hit a triple. A lot of people get things handed to them, but you know, I think it’s a whole lot better to work for it.”
Summitt’s six national championship teams include a 1997-98 squad that finished the season with a perfect 39-0 record. A member of the inaugural class of inductees into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, she was named the Naismith Women’s Basketball Coach of the Decade, and she was the first female coach to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. On Friday, Oct. 13, she will become just the fourth woman ever named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A celebrated figure in women’s athletics, Summitt is busy off the court, as well. Working Mother magazine named her one of the nation’s 25 most influential working mothers in 1997, and she was among those honored at a White House luncheon given by First Lady Hillary Clinton.
The Chancellor’s Speaker Series is designed to bring significant figures to campus to discuss major issues of the day, and to provide WCU students with an opportunity to interact with some of the people who shape and influence our world.