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by Dakota Elliott
Pat Summitt is best known for her 38 years as University of Tennessee Knoxville’s women’s basketball coach, during which time she never had a losing season. With a career total of 1,098 wins to only 208 losses, Summitt holds the record for the most wins of any college basketball coach in history. Prior to her retirement in 2012, she won eight NCAA championships and was named NCAA Coach of the Year seven times.1 Summitt received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, presented to her by President Barack Obama. She also was given Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2011 and was the only woman named on The Sporting News’ 50 Greatest Coaches of All-Time. But her career at UT-Knoxville is only part of the Pat Summitt story, and the Tennessee State Museum’s collection has a variety of artifacts that help tell the story of her early life and formative years in Middle Tennessee.
Patricia Sue Head was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, on June 14, 1952 to Richard and Hazel Head. Trish, as she was known then, was raised on a Montgomery County farm along with her three brothers and her sister, who were instrumental in helping her learn the game of basketball. As her father once recalled in The Leaf-Chronicle in 1984, it all started after he installed a basketball goal in their barn loft when Summitt was about 6 years old, where she and her brothers Tommy, Charles, and Kenneth, would play for hours at a time. Richard remembered that it was Summitt’s brothers who “taught her to be aggressive."2 Summitt’s time with her brothers paid off early-on. Wearing the #22 jersey in seventh and eighth grade as a Roosevelt Elementary School Rebel, Summitt and her team went undefeated in her eighth grade year, with Summitt as the high scorer during their final win against the Ringold Eagles in 1966.3
Growing up, Summitt was interested in horseback riding, barrel racing, and her local 4-H club, along with her duties on her family’s farm. The photograph above was taken around the time Summitt attended Roosevelt Elementary School in Montgomery County. Tennessee State Museum collection (2017.2.14)
As Summitt readied herself for high school, there was one problem: Clarksville high school did not have a girls’ basketball team. Therefore, the entire Head family moved into a smaller house in nearby Henrietta, next to a grocery store they owned, so she could play at Cheatham County Central High.5 Right away, Summitt was placed as a starting forward her freshman year and remained in that position until her graduation in 1970.6
Then known as “Trish,” as this school identification card shows, Summitt was a starting forward for Cheatham County Central High basketball her freshman year. Tennessee State Museum collection (2017.2.22).
By her senior year, Summitt was the high scorer in many games and averaged 28.1 points and 14 rebounds per game. Additionally, she was voted “Basketball Sweetheart of the Season” and “Most Popular” in the school’s 1970 yearbook.7
Summitt’s 1969 and 1970 varsity letters from Cheatham County Central High in Ashland City, TN. Tennessee State Museum collection (2017.2.25 and 2017.2.26).
Summitt, circa 1970. Tennessee State Museum collection (2017.2.20)
Middle school and high school were just the beginning for Summitt. She went on to play at the University of Tennessee-Martin where she became an All-American and was UT-Martin’s leading scorer of all-time, amassing 1,045 points while a Lady Pacer.8 While accomplishing all of this, she earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education and her master’s degree in the same field at UT-Knoxville. Back on the court, she was a member of the silver medal-winning 1976 U.S. Olympic team before going on to coach the 1984 Olympic team to gold.9
This was the beginning of a journey in sports that would take Summitt to the highest levels of excellence.
More Pat Summitt artifacts are on display in our Tennessee Transforms exhibit.
Dakota Elliott is a curatorial assistant at the Tennessee State Museum
1 “The life of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt at a glance,” USA Today, June 28, 2016
2 As quoted in "It All Started Back in the Barn,” The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN, September 24, 1984.
3 Rebels Go Undefeated,” The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN, February 13, 1966.
4 “It All Started Back in the Barn,” The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN, September 24, 1984.
5 “Coach Summitt was ‘Trish’ to Classmates,” The Jackson Sun, July 6, 2016.
6 “A Freshman Starter Before the Trend,” The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN, September 24, 1984.
7 “A Freshman Starter Before the Trend,” The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN, September 24, 1984.
8 “Pat Summitt’s career at a glance,” Knoxville News Sentinel, July 9, 2016.
9 Rachel Shuster, “The life of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt at a Glance,” USA TODAY Sports, June 28, 2016.