BookBin2013: Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective


What more could I possibly write about Tennessee Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt? I first blogged about her right after she announced her diagnosis of early dementia, Alzheimer’s type. This heartbreaking news inspired me to revisit Summitt’s book Raise the Roof, all about her team’s 39-0 championship season in 1997-98. I enjoyed re-reading this book so much that I sought out and read her book Reach for the Summit, which I described as “equal parts business-minded motivational pep talkery, behind-the-scenes glimpses of Summitt’s coaching style, the extensive work and research that goes into each Lady Vol basketball season, and autobiographical side trips along the way.”

I must admit that I kind of assumed that Reach for the Summit would be the closest we would ever see from Coach Summitt to an autobiography. She’s always struck me as the type of person who has many more important things to do than consider the details of all she has already done. Then, just as she always does, she surprised us all with this memoir, Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. Teaming up once more with Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, with whom Summitt wrote her previous two books, to pen this memoir.

Summitt’s logic for doing this? Because who would expect an Alzheimer’s patient to write a memoir?

You have to admit, she’s got us on that one. I also think it was Summitt’s way of making certain that all the women for whom she served as coach, mentor, mother, friend, commandant, and confidant knew what her thoughts were toward the game and the players she’s loved so much…before the memories were no longer there to share. She is pragmatic throughout, admitting errors in judgment; refusing to sling, stab, or vilify anyone who might not have shown her the same kindness; even confessing the areas of her memory that have already begun to dim and slip into the ether.

Interspersed throughout are conversation snippets from players, friends, family, other coaches, and her son, all helping to strengthen the sum of Summitt’s story and taking the opportunity to speak their own truths about her. Also, each chapter begins with snippets from various interviews that Jenkins must have conducted with Summitt in preparation for this book. Jenkins and Summitt have been friends for many years, so these inclusions show a contemplative poignancy from Summitt that I suspect was more forthcoming because she was speaking with someone she trusts.

It’s not really a secret that I’m a huge Summitt fan. Therefore, I cannot be objective about this book. I pre-ordered it the moment I learned Summitt was writing it. I started reading it the night it arrived. It’s already on my shelf of autobiographies and biographies. It’s not going anywhere. Again, I point out that I am not a sports fan. Yet I still cling to my admiration for Coach Summitt. For as non-objective as I admittedly am, I say to you that I think this book was worth every penny paid and every word read.

Final Verdict: I think I just answered that. One more thing, though: If you are so inclined, please consider making a donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation. We need more research. We need more hope that one day, someone will figure out how to halt this horrible disease. Too many good people have been taken by it. It needs to end.

Philanthropy Friday

Change of plans today, denizens. As we move ever closer into the holiday season, I thought I would take a moment to praise some of the old and new organizations to which I have either religiously made donations or to which I plan to donate.

I know that this is not a kind economy right now, and that things like charity donations typically fall off everyone’s radars during these lean times. However, if you can spare a few dollars and would like to put them to maximum use, here are four suggestions that receive the Loba Pawprint of Approval:

Defenders of Wildlife: In an utterly unsurprising announcement, I am a staunch animal lover and armchair environmentalist. I’ve been donating to Defenders of Wildlife since I was in college, and I continue to believe in and respect their efforts. They are consistently ranked by Worth magazine as one of the best charities in the United States, with the largest portion of received donations being put toward their protective efforts, rather than in covering administrative costs or purchasing poorly made give-aways to clog up your mailbox (like certain other charities to which I will never donate again). Defenders not only has never overwhelmed me with give-aways, they also ask me if I would rather opt out of the give-away when I do donate. I really like that. They also know me well enough that they always send me wolf-specific information when it’s time to remind me to renew my membership. They’ve been fighting to protect wildlife since 1947, which makes me think they must know a little bit about what they’re doing.

Pat Summitt Foundation: It is wrong to anthropomorphize a disease, but if you did, then Alzheimer’s would be a brutal, harsh betrayer…a Judas with a kiss that is lingering, debilitating, unstoppable, and cruel. There is nothing poetic in its deconstruction of mind and spirit, and it leaves bystanders with nothing to do but sit by helplessly and watch as the person they love is stolen from them piece at a time until there is nothing left. It needs to be stopped, and if there is anyone with the fortitude to help bring the beginning of the end to this disease, it’s Pat Summitt. I’ve already spoken my part on how I feel about Coach Summitt. If anything, I respect her even more than before, and I am so in awe of how she has yet again stepped up to the challenge placed before her with 100-percent focus and dedication. I wish I could say that I believe she can outpace this disease and add it as another win for her record books. I do believe that she will dedicate herself wholly to her offensive stance against it, and through giving her name and support to research against the disease, I believe that she will have a huge impact in bringing the support and funding needed to move that much closer to the cure.

Penny Lane: This is another new addition to my list, brought to my attention by someone else I respect and admire…and ironically, another Pat. This time, it’s that zombie-bashing, phaser-firing, mind-reading stunt actress extraordinaire, Patricia Tallman. I learned about this foundation by reading Tallman’s recent memoir, Pleasure Thresholds and decided that it needed further investigation. The foundation’s California-based centers provide therapeutic residential services, foster family placements, transitional housing, and outpatient mental health services to more than 1,400 abused and neglected children and youth. Tallman has been a long-time advocate of Penny Lane’s efforts, even starting her own “Be A Santa” program in 1998. Hint, hint…it’s the perfect time of year to help with the Be A Santa program.

RAINN: This is the other organization to which I have donated since college. I first learned about them through their founder, Tori Amos. She started RAINN as a way to respond to the many fans who reached out to her with their own stories when she stepped forward as the survivor of sexual assault. This is another close to the top of the list of Worth magazine’s highest-ranking U.S. charities, with 92 percent of every dollar donated going to helping victims of sexual violence, educating the public, and improving public policy. It’s also another charity that doesn’t overwhelm you with give-aways or pester you with repeated mailings. I receive regular e-mails, but the only time I ever receive postal mail from them is when I haven’t made a donation in a while. Additionally, as far as I can tell, they have never sold my contact information to any other organizations or affiliates. I really respect them for that.

There you go. If you can give something, please do. If not, that’s okay, too. And if you want additional recommendations, just look to the right of the screen, under the heading “Give It Up, For Good.”

BookBin2011: Reach for the Summit

See? I did warn you in my last review that I’d finally gotten my hands on a copy of Coach Summitt’s first book, didn’t I? Okay then.

Reach for the Summit is pretty much equal parts business-minded motivational pep talkery, behind-the-scenes glimpses of Summitt’s coaching style, the extensive work and research that goes into each Lady Vol basketball season, and autobiographical side trips along the way. I think I liked the autobiographical tangents the most. Summitt is extraordinarily interesting, not just as a coach but as a person (although I suppose one could argue that one feeds into the other feeds into the other). I think, however, that this might be the closest thing we will ever get from her to an actual autobiography. She doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would willingly participate in just talking about herself.

However, for the purposes of this book, she was willing to allow readers in to see those private sides of herself as a means of understanding the “Definite Dozen System” that she uses with her players and staff and that she and co-writer Sally Jenkins outline as a course of action for those looking to be motivated and inspired in whatever they are doing in life.

I’m not really a touchy-feely, motivational speaker, “Just Hang In There” poster kind of girl. Luckily, neither is Summitt. She is fierce. But with the most successful record of any NCAA coach? She also obviously knows what she’s doing and what she’s talking about. And what she’s defining through this book isn’t some miracle elixir program. She outlines hard work, focus, practice, preparation, and a willingness to change and to also admit when you’re wrong.

But never to readily admit defeat. I don’t really think that’s a word that gets much use in her vocabulary.

I’m not going to tell you what the “Definite Dozen System” includes, because I actually think that this book is worth the read. I even found it to be (gasp!) motivational. And, seriously, denizens, I hate motivational books.

Final Verdict:
Keeper. Right next to my copy of Raise the Roof. Woots.

BookBin2011: Raise the Roof

Bit of a nostalgia break this time, denizens. I read Coach Pat Summitt’s book, Raise the Roof, back around when it was first published. I was a student at the University of Maryland at the time, which meant that my transformation into the anti-sports crusader I am today was nearly complete (nothing will turn you against sports, especially college sports, quite like watching the free rides and preferential treatment the athletes receive from some colleges while you struggle to hold onto academic-based grants barely large enough to cover each semester’s book fees).

Still, there was something about Coach Summitt and her Lady Vols that kept me hanging on just a little while longer. I already knew Summitt’s style was anything but the “free ride” variety (one of the many reasons why I continue to respect her). She demands excellence from her players both on the court and in the classroom. You play for Summitt, you go to every class, you sit in the first three rows, you earn high grades, you graduate. Period. I’d seen the HBO documentary, A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back, which followed the UT team through a record-setting low season that ended with them pulling out of their nose dive in time to clinch a second NCAA championship win in a row. Some might think a win is a win is a win. Not Coach Summitt. She refused to have that year’s 29-10 record engraved on their championship rings.

And then the 97-98 season began. Win. Win. Win. Win.


All the way to very last championship game.

Nothing. But. Win.

You bet your ass Coach Summitt had that record engraved on her team’s rings. Third NCAA championship win in a row, this time with a perfect 39-0 record, with the point differential between teams averaging 30 points in favor of UT. This was one of the finest seasons ever played by an NCAA team, all done with determination, strength, finesse, fire, and quite possibly one of the greatest line-up of players that has ever been brought together to play the game.

Raise the Roof is their story.

Summitt’s Lady Vols that season consisted of only one senior, Laurie Mulligan. The rest were juniors, sophomores, and four of the most audacious freshmen imaginable: Tamika Catchings, Kristen, “Ace” Clement, Teresa “Tree” Geter, and Semeka Randall. Not to be outdone by this foursome, Summitt also had in her pocket two powerhouse juniors: Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly.

Holdsclaw will go down in the history books as one of the greatest basketball players to ever run the boards. She is the fifth highest scoring player in NCAA Division I women’s basketball, a first-round pick for the Washington Mystics upon her graduation from UT, and an Olympic gold medalist.

Jolly (now Kellie Harper) spent a year with the Cleveland Rockers right after her graduation and is now the head coach of the N.C. State Lady Wolfpack, obviously a Loba-approved team.

In Raise the Roof, Summitt tells the story of this team’s season-long coalescence, which began even before practices did, during an impromptu pick-up game upon the freshmen’s arrival on campus. I don’t read a lot of sports-related books for obvious reasons, so I don’t have a frame of comparison for this book. I can tell you, however, that Summitt and sports writer Sally Jenkins came together to tell an amazing story. They showcase both the frenetic energy of this team as well as the poetry and passion of the games being described.

I’ve always thought that a top-notch squad of players can rival the beauty and choreography of a ballet when they’re out there on the floor. Summitt and Jenkins capture this essence perfectly, along with insightful character profiles for each of the players and the struggles and successes that brought them together for this perfect team and this perfect season.

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, there is something so inspiring about these hard-scrabble young women and the iron-willed coach who led them to record-breaking victory. Plus, Summitt and Jenkins combined their skills to tell a captivating and eloquent tale that even the sports-disinterested might find enjoyable. I remember loving this book the first time I read it, and I might have loved it even more this time. Don’t think this means I’m going to start watching sports. But even I can recognize that sometimes, some teams transcend the boundaries of all that is negative about sports and elevate themselves to a positive playing level all their own.

Final Verdict: I’m so glad that I’ve finally added this book to my library. I’m just sorry that it was Summitt’s recent upsetting health news that reminded me that it was still missing. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I also recently added Summitt’s book Reach for the Summit to my library as well. I thought that I had read this one, too, around the time I first read Raise the Roof. I was wrong. I’m currently rectifying that. You have been warned…

“You Don’t Know What I’m Capable Of.”

I know a little bit about what she’s capable of. She’s been the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols since 1974. During this time, her coaching skills have brought UT 1,037 victories; her teams have only been defeated 196 times. She’s led the Lady Vols to the Final Four 18 times—more times than any other men’s or women’s college basketball coach—brought home championship wins from 8. She coached the U.S. women’s basketball team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics…one notch better than the silver medal she won as a member of the team during the 1976 Olympics. Many of her girls have gone on to walk in her footsteps as coaches in their own right. Some have carried her lessons inside them through their own trips to Olympic victories. Some continue to wield the skills she helped them hone, onto WNBA courts across the country. More importantly? Every one of the eligible athletes who played for her went on to graduate with a degree. She’s made certain of that.

And these are just the “big” stats. There’s lots more to her beyond what I carry around in my weird noggin.

You know me, denizens. I’m not much for sports or stats. But Pat Summitt has always amazed, inspired, and humbled me. She is a remarkable role model and, pardon my feminist streak for a moment, if she was a man in charge of a men’s college or NBA team, with the same set of stats that I just quoted, her name would be synonymous with the game itself, on the lips of every basketball fan from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of California.

Regardless of this lack of deserved ubiquity, the facts cannot be disputed. Summitt holds the record for the most wins of any college basketball coach, man or woman. She’s brought home more NCAA championships than any other women’s basketball coach. She was part of the inaugural inductees to the women’s basketball hall of fame, she’s in the basketball hall of fame, she’s received the ESPY award for coach of the year, she’s got roads, gyms, and courts named after her…

…and now she’s announced that she has the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s 59 years old.

My heart hasn’t stopped breaking ever since I first heard this news.

I know what this disease is capable of. I know how cruel, how unrelenting, how unmerciful it is. How it can rob the grace and intelligence of even the strongest wills. I’ve also already had my heart broken once before, with NC State’s Coach Jimmy V. I hate to link Valvano and Summitt, since I think that Summitt has many, many more years ahead of her…perhaps even enough time that doctors will finally find the key to stopping or slowing this disease. I only mention Valvano here because of one of his most memorable quotes: “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up!”

I hope Coach Summitt fights this with every ounce of the resolve that she carries in ample supply. I hope she never gives up. And I hope that every girl who has donned the orange of the Lady Vols, who has been pushed to their limits and beyond, who has been brought to tears and finally to triumph, and who has left the University of Tennessee that much more remarkable as an athlete and as a woman never forgets that it was Summitt’s fire that helped to forge them.