Why Sports and Hollywood Need a Pat Summitt Movie
“She was this larger-than-life personality who was impossible to ignore. She was a mixture of someone with a stare that could burn holes through steel and a funny, self-deprecating, caring mother for hundreds of her players in her 38 seasons as Tennessee’s coach from 1974-2012.”
If there was ever a Hollywood sports movie begging to be made, the story of legendary college sports coach Pat Summitt would be it. Tragically, Summitt died on June 28, 2016 at the age of 64 from complications related to dementia, five years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Besides the millions of sports fans and athletes who are grieving, many celebrities are mourning her passing and paying tribute, from Alyssa Milano to Peyton Manning. If Hollywood already has such a strong affection for Summitt, it’s only a matter of time before a famous producer or director makes a movie about her life. And frankly, when you take a closer look at her story, it’s easy to see why the Pat Summitt story would be a hit at the box office.
An Interesting Father-Daughter Backstory
Pat Summitt has a classic Abe Lincoln-style origin story. She grew up in a small log cabin on a rural farm in Clarksville, Tennessee. Right off the bat we have the perfect setting for a “humble beginnings” backstory that would make an intriguing first act of a movie. But it goes deeper than just a humble setting. There is also the potential for a heartwarming family drama embedded in Summitt’s childhood, particularly in her relationship with her father.
As stated in her autobiography and motivational book “Reach for the Summitt” (1998), Summitt had three brothers, a younger sister, a loyal and hardworking mother, and a father who was known for being an intense disciplinarian and an extremely hard worker who allowed very little room for play among his children. There was just too much work to do, and in those days, farming was often done with every member of the family pitching in however they could. Her father made sure of that. According to her book, she loved her father, but also feared him.
Their hard work, however, eventually paid off. After years of painful poverty, her father and mother built a dairy and tobacco farm out of nothing. The work was brutal, but in time the farm thrived, and Summitt’s parents built their humble little farm into a thousand-acre operation. He also expanded into other business operations, including a general store, a feed mill, a gas pump, a laundry business, and a hardware store.
Summitt had problems with her father at times because of his intensely disciplined nature and severe punishments for misbehavior. But later, as an adult and a coach, she was grateful for his unusual combination of steadfast love and severe discipline. Even though he was severe at times, he was a reliable man, a role model for hard work and discipline, and a steadfast presence in Summitt’s life. There were fun memories in her child too: she wrote in her book how the roads in rural Tennessee at that time were all unpaved, so she would travel around the area on a pony named Billy. In addition, her father created a makeshift basketball court on top of a hayloft on the farm. He even set lights up so his children could practice at night.
In a way, even though the severe discipline of her childhood was extremely difficult, Summitt owed a great deal to her dad, not only for instilling the work ethic and discipline in her that made her a good coach but also for supporting her interest in basketball and giving her a chance to develop her skill at an early age. Summitt was extremely tall for her age and had enormous potential as a player. When her father saw this, he moved the family to a different county that had a girl’s basketball team because he believed in her abilities.
Hollywood could easily juxtapose the negative side of her relationship with her dad (the overly severe discipline, the coldness at times) with the positive side (his support of her dreams and skills) to create a tear-jerk sports drama that has a father-daughter relationship at its heart.
The film could also focus on her mother and on the reality that, in those days, women often had to fight harder for respect. In her book, Summitt remembers how her mother was often treated like a servant by the men in the family, and it bothered her because her mother worked harder than all of them. It lit a fire in Summitt to fight for respect even in male-dominated settings, and this fire burned brightly during her coaching years.
Critics would call this kind of movie a “sports film with a heart,” a perfect description of the Pat Summitt story.
A Thrilling Career Filled With ‘Triumph Over Insurmountable Odds’ Moments
Besides heart, the Pat Summitt story would have plenty of basketball too. Summitt shined in high school basketball and went on to play at the University of Tennessee. She did so well in her college career that, at age 22, she would transition to coaching the women’s basketball team, the Lady Vols, at her alma mater. But her playing didn’t end there. A couple years later, she was chosen to co-captain the women’s national team for the United States at the 1976 Summer Olympics where she won a silver medal.In 1984, she coached the Olympic women’s basketball team, and the team won the gold medal. This set a record: she became the first U. S. Olympian to win a medal as both a player and a coach.
While her Olympic feats would make great Hollywood moments during the exciting second act of a film, it was her coaching of the Lady Volunteers basketball team at the University of Tennessee that turned her into a legend and would provide more than enough drama for a movie’s thrilling third act. In a sometimes hostile environment where men dominated the sport and often mocked women’s basketball, Summitt shamed all her critics and single-handedly turned the Lady Vols program into a nationally famous basketball powerhouse. It also put women’s basketball on the map and forced people to take it seriously. Her coaching record at the University of Tennessee accumulated into something for the history books: she became the most winningest coach in the history of both men’s and women’s major college basketball.In fact, Summitt and her many devoted players (who often looked at her as a mother), won eight national titles, 1,098 games (the most by any Division 1 basketball coach, male or female), and she made a shocking 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, something that had never been done before by any major college basketball team, male or female. Summitt’s astounding success and sincere but disciplined care for her players—care that would extend well beyond their years playing for Summitt—not only became an inspiration to millions of girls everywhere but to an entire nation.
A Challenging Childhood That Becomes the Secret Ingredient for Success Years Later
As a coach, Summitt was a mirror image of her father’s mix of loving support and brutal disciplinarian. What made Summitt successful, however, was her ability to turn both sides of her personality on and off at a moment’s notice as the situation called for it.
A story like that would make one of the most memorable sports films in the history of the genre: a humble, hardworking girl who grew up in a small log cabin on a farm and endured a brutal childhood of hard work and discipline turns all of those adversities into Olympic medals, the most winningest college basketball coaching career in history, and a legacy that would inspire millions.
So where can I buy the movie tickets?
Contributing author: Kevin Ott