Countless by Mary Banker, Meagan Murphy & Laura Sullivan

the-sports-kings-pat-summitt-says-goodbyeThere is not one journalist or writer who can paint the picture of the life lived by Pat Summitt. My heart is heavy along with so many others about her passing. Please allow me to attempt to give tribute to a woman who not only wore the title of Coach but defined it for women’s athletics and coaches everywhere.

If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ve heard me talk about being a coach. I wear the title with honor and a heavy sense of responsibility because I grasp the impact I can have both positively and negatively on people’s lives. I recently received a Facebook message from an athlete I coached years ago. It read;

“…I’ve meant to say this for ten+ years (but don’t think I ever have) that when I was 21, fresh out of college, and in a just not right relationship, you and I were chatting on the sidelines of the regional XC meet. I must have said something about being worried about my boyfriend/relationship, and I remember the look of kind, genuine concern you gave me, and the brief, but meaningful response years later. You told me not to let myself be in a relationship that left me feeling like that. It took me years (literally) to feel secure enough to leave that relationship, but I have thought so often of that amazing moment of support and kindness.”

This conversation was brief, with an athlete who was not in my direct event group so I didn’t get to spend a lot of one on one time with her. None of that mattered; I was one of her coaches and that put me in a position to influence her. My words carried weight and meaning, and they affected her in a way I never knew until a few weeks ago when she sent me the above message.

I think of the short time I’ve coached, the amount of people I’ve met, spoken to, the number of new coaches and young coaches I’ve been able to teach, I keep coming back to the number 38. Pat Summitt coached for 38 seasons, THIRTY-EIGHT. She won 8 national titles, put up 1,098 Ws in the win column and recorded 112 NCCA Tournament wins during her tenure. However what we can never put a number to are all the lives she touched.

Girls in the Game has a small but mighty staff of 18 women. Of the 18 women, at least three of us were directly impacted by Coach Summitt’s career and the rest have been indirectly affected in ways we may never truly comprehend.

One. Meagan Murphy played collegiate basketball at Augustana College and has generously brought her skills to Girls in the Game. She is a stud of an athlete, a leader and has found her greatness. Read Meagan’s tribute below.

Pat Summitt’s career allowed me a space to witness greatness among women’s athletics. But more than that, it allowed me to strive for that same greatness: to be passionate, courageous and strong-willed. Pat Summitt’s playing and coaching career showed me no limits, no bounds. From a young age I knew that girls were athletes, and great ones at that. I am in debt to her; I am in debt to her steadfastness when it comes to her love for the game and the dedication that flowed from that love. It might seem strange to think that a six-year-old girl could find such inspiration from a coach I wouldn’t play for, let alone meet. But there was passion her eyes, in her actions. There was passion in those she coached. There was passion in the Tennessee program.

The day I said, “I want to play at Tennessee for Pat Summitt!” was the day I decided to learn about hard work and dedication; it was the day I decided to dream. I went on to play competitively through high school and college. And even though I was never a Lady Vol, her legacy reaches far beyond her team and the players she coached. Her legacy reaches all the way to the little girl picking up a ball for the first time knowing that greatness awaits her.

Two. Laura Sullivan came to Girls in the Game from the West Coast where she played collegiate basketball at Gonzaga. She leads by example, uses her powerful voice and knows her strength. Read Laura’s tribute below.


I spent the last couple days reading over tributes from former players and colleagues of Pat Summitt, feeling more emotion than I anticipated.  Pat Summitt was not my coach.  I never met her in person.  I can never lay claim to having endured a notorious Tennessee practice or never felt the icy glare of Coach Summitt.  However, the emotions I felt came from a sense of gratitude.  While I never knew Coach Summitt, she helped me know myself better.  She made it okay for me to be competitive, to be mad when I lost or did not play my best.  She made it okay for me, as a female athlete, to expect excellence from myself.  With this, Coach Summitt instilled in me a standard of hard work. 

I cannot help but look back at my days of trying to make a Division I basketball team, the late nights and early mornings in the gym by myself, and thank Coach Summitt when my dream became a reality.  She made wanting to play women’s basketball mean something.  She made being a female athlete mean something.  I am forever indebted to her, she laid the groundwork for girls who would pick up a basketball long before they were ever born.  She allowed us to demand respect and feel like we belonged in and out of the sports’ world.  Thanks to Coach Summitt I was able to be transformed by the game of basketball.  I now know the power of my own voice, know the strength of my resolve and ultimately, know that I matter.  Thank you Coach Summitt.

Three. Me. I played basketball in high school and decided to run track in college instead of playing ball. After my collegiate career I started coaching track and field at the college level. During my career I took a break from coaching after having a terrible experience. During this time, one of my friends wrote to Pat Summitt about my coaching career and my accomplishments. Coach Summitt sent me a book that she signed and a note that told me to keep at it after she received the letter. I’ll never forget receiving the book, because it was during a time of self-reflection, healing and feeling a bit lost. And in the most perfect timing, I had just finished her other book.

Pat Summitt is a woman who actually changed the game. She changed it for all of us and those changes do not stop at basketball. She demanded respect for female athletes and for women in the profession of sports. She didn’t talk about doing things, she did them. Here is to the most winningest Division 1 basketball coach in history, to her competitive, never-give-up spirit, to the piercing looks she gave through her steel blue eyes. Thank you for paving the way for us, for all of us. Thank you for the NCAA records you set, the titles you won and all the incredible statistics you left behind; but most importantly thank you for leaving one statistic blank, one that can never be measured, the number of all the lives you touched. This will be recorded as COUNTLESS, in all the record books just as only a legend could leave it.


Reblog: My Summer Squad Experience by Cristina Polenica


This morning, the summer camp staff prepared for a long day of training with our summer coaches. Chairs were set up, along with a PowerPoint presentation and other sports equipment. Future coaches filed in to the auditorium to learn more about what to expect as the Girls in the Game staff gears up for the Sports and Leadership Summer Camp and Summer Squad. Today, we’re re-blogging one of our own blogs from the end of last summer to show just how vital this coming experience will be for the girls and teens involved.

On the last Monday of Summer Squad, Mark, a representative from After School Matters (ASM) came to Union Park to visit with the teens and see what they were up to. And we were up to a lot. We had just finished preparing for our final workshop by selecting activity leaders for each part of the Playbook Two workshop on Tuesday (kickboxing, special needs, and combating peer pressure), and ran through the playbook for practice. And we also finished preparing for our  final Leader to Leader interview by coming up with questions to ask the panelists. Shortly after that, Mark arrived.

A couple of the teens explained to him what a Leader to Leader Interview is, and then we as a team demonstrated a few of the transition games that we like to lead with at workshops for younger girls. Mark participated in a game of Rock Paper Scissors Tag (two teams choose a symbol, and the winning team chases the losing team in order to tag them and bring them to their team), and in a game of Elbow Tag (partners link arms, the runner links onto someone, and then the third in the group becomes the new runner). The teens explained both games well, and everyone was laughing and had fun. They cooperated well in teams and in pairs.

Since there was an odd number of people for Elbow Tag, I decided to step to the side and watch. I noticed the joy in everyone’s faces, even the smiles and laughter when girls who were running were tagged and became the new runner. In that moment, it hit me — my time as a Senior Counselor for Summer Squad was soon going to end. As tired as I had been from hours of traveling and walking all over the city; as taxing as it had been when one or more coaches were sick and unexpectedly out for the day; and as challenging as it was to dig deep inside of myself to use a voice of authority when teens exhibited difficult behaviors — I grew to know and love these girls, and I didn’t want the summer with them to end. I looked forward to seeing them four days a week for the past five (almost six) weeks. I quickly learned all of their names, and enjoyed learning about their personalities. Several girls even asked me if I was coming back next year!

I’d like to think that Mark could see a sense of community among the girls as we played those games, just like I did. As my experience with Summer Squad comes to a close, I look back on both the rough days and the great days, and I am completely grateful to have met these girls and had the experiences that we did. I have grown as a person because my life has been touched by theirs, and I hope that they take with them what they’ve learned from our activities and conversations, forward in life. They all aspire to go to college; they all want to be something, be someone. And they are all teachers and leaders. I love that a program like Girls in the Game exists, and am delighted I had a front row seat to watch the impact it had on each girl.

Think (Listen) Before You Speak by Alecia Ivery

Today our blogger is Alecia Ivery, the Girls in the Game Assistant Program Manager, here to share her wisdom on the importance of listening.

It is common to hear the phrase “think before you speak”. But I would like to add listen, think, then, maybe, speak. As a coach listening to our youth is very important. Whether it is verbal or nonverbal communication, they tend to let you know exactly how they are feeling. Actively listening to the girls is something that makes programming at Girls in the Game run smoothly and enables everyone to have fun, especially when the girls know that you as the coach are actually listening to them.

3Recently during After School programming, we were discussing self-identity for our leadership topic, and we had the girls create a family tree. When all the girls were finished, we opened the floor up for girls to share their family trees with the group.  We got to the last participant, and while she was reading I could tell something was wrong. Halfway through sharing her family tree she started to cry. I looked over to my co-coach and she was giving me the same “what should we do?” look. The participant started to share how she had lost her grandmother earlier in the year, and she said that when she talks about her grandmother she gets sad.

After she shared with the group, she asked if she could go to the restroom. We let her go, but I followed behind her and waited for her in the hall.  As I waited, I tried to think of something to say to make her feel better. When she came out I asked her how she was doing, and she started to share her feelings about her grandmother.  But then she started to address other issues that she was going through at home. At that moment, I realized she didn’t need me to come up with some profound quote or an inspirational phrase; she just needed someone to genuinely listen to her.

IMG_3827Now reflecting on the situation, I remember during my time as a coach with Up2Us, we discussed how important vital connections are for young people. One of those vital connections is the relationship adults build with the young people they work with or coach. I remember getting an information sheet that discussed how if “organizations incorporate ways for young people to establish and build relationships with caring adults they are more successful in supporting the positive development of the young people they serve”.  At that moment in programming, the participant just needed a caring adult. She needed someone to hear her and let her know it was okay to voice how she was feeling.

From this experience I discovered that it is okay to not say anything even when you feel like you should have some piece of profound wisdom to give. Providing that safe space and opportunity for our girls to share stories, feelings, and experiences is more crucial, and I am glad I can help create that space. At that moment I found out how it is better to listen, think, then, maybe, speak.