KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The drone of bagpipes carried through cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena, “Amazing Grace” setting the stage for Robin Roberts to open the Pat Summitt Celebration of Life Thursday night.
Roberts explained how the song title was a perfect representation of what the eight-time national championship coach and Tennessee icon stood for: amazing, grace.
Summitt passed away on June 28, complications of Alzheimer’s disease ending her life at the age of 64.
Some five years earlier, Summitt announced she was in the early onset stage of the disease, and 2011-12 would be her final year as Lady Vols head basketball coach.
Summitt, with a 100 percent graduation rate among her four-year players along with her titles, established herself as arguably the greatest coach in the history of collegiate sports long before her final game.
Tennessee football legend Peyton Manning was among the speakers, making the trek to Knoxville after he appeared at the ESPY ceremonies in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
“She almost single-handedly made women’s sports relevant, well beyond mothers, and daughters and sisters and grandmothers,” Manning said. “I think every Tennessee football player, including me, would have been proud to have been coached by Pat Summitt.”
Manning, who attended Summitt’s private burial ceremony on June 30 in middle Tennessee, introduced Summitt at the ESPY’s in 2012 as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner.
Manning said he sought out Summitt for advice when he was trying to decided whether to return for his senior season with the Vols, and a two-hour visit to her office ensued.
To this day, Manning said he only has two pieces of sports memorabilia in his home office, two basketballs signed by Summitt for each of his children.
“She gave new depth and dimension to the word ‘lady,’” the two-time Super Bowl winner and five-time NFL MVP said.
Roberts, host of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” noted how all of the athletes at the University of Tennessee felt Summit’s presence. She was indeed a main attraction for all recruits, young men and women, in every sport.
“She meant so much to our family, and what a family she created — it was built with love and loyalty,” said Mickie DeMoss, a longtime Summitt assistant coach and close friend. “This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, to speak about Pat in the past tense, because she meant so much to me, to you and to the world.”
The banner honoring Summitt and her 38-year coaching career- 1974-2012 — was lit up in the arena rafters above the “The Summitt” hardwood court.
Tyler Summitt, the legendary coach’s son, shared stories of his mother’s dedication and love for him, but also, her incomparable motivational skills.
“Here’s what she would want now, for all of us, who have some way been influenced by Pat Summitt,” Tyler Summitt said, “she wouldn’t want us to remember her example, she would want us to follow it.
“Let’s not just remember her legacy, let’s carry it on … let’s strive to have a heart like Pat Summitt’s.”
Dozens of coaches were present, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma among them. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and his predecessors, Mike Slive and Roy Kramer, were here at the event as well.
— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) July 15, 2016