Somehow, “loser” seems so inappropriate.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will find a myraid of subjects covered, mostly having to do with politics. But since this is MY blog, and it’s MY birthday, I’m going to arbitrarily change the rules to include sports (again).

Yesterday, the Tennessee Lady Vols lost in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships. As you may know, this is the time of year we sports fans call March Madness. The college men and women play in 64 team bracketed tournaments to determine a national champion. It is perhaps the most definitive of all championships since so many teams are able to participate. The winner of each tournament will have had to win five games in a row, defeating teams from all over the country, most of whom they have not had a chance to even see play. It is a feat unlike any other sport. In the sport of college basketball, there has been one coach and one team which has redefined success. For the last 28 years, Pat Summit and the Tennessee Lady Vols have dominated this time of the year like no other. Eight championships overall, including the last two. Yesterday, they lost in the first round for the first time ever.

I watched the litany of “firsts” for Tennesse tick off:

First time a defending champion has lost in the first round

First time Tennessee lost in the first round (they’ve never lost in first two rounds)

First time they lost to a team seeded lower than 4th

I couldn’t help but reflect on the legacy of success this storied program has had. Pat Summit won her 1000th game this year. Let’s put that into perspective. No other college coach, man or woman, for men or women, has ever won 1000 games! Bobby Knight is second with 902 and he’s retired. Over the last 24 years, 45 of her former players have gone on to coach in other programs. She is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Which brings me to my point (you knew I had one!). This loss says less about Tennessee and more about the state of women’s basketball. Of course the incredible run would have to end sometime. But why did she not have the ability to field a more competitive team this year? Perhaps because the growth of the sport has been so successful that many of the top players have had other platforms to play on. I’m not trying to dis the women on the current team. They are all young and I’m sure they will have a chance to play for a national title before they graduate.

I am a sports fan, and I am a fan of women. I believe that sports gives all of us lessons that are valuable in other areas of life. For the players, that means things like discipline, teamwork, and living a goal-oriented life. Sacrificing for the greater good. These are all admirable traits and for many of these women, it will only be learned on the basketball court. I was struck last week when I heard an interview with Ms. Summitt asking how she keeps coming back year after year. She said she relishes the role she plays in young women’s lives. She said she and her staff believe they are there to teach more than basketball, they are teaching life lessons while learning the sport. This will be a good lesson for the Tennessee women and I’m sure it will be taught at full volume! Here’s to the health of the sport and here’s to the empowerment of women! (Where’s Helen Reddy when I REALLY need her!)

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