How Pat Summitt Changed My Life…


I never played basketball.  I am only 5’2′”.

I don’t watch professional sports and really never have. I root for all of the athletic programs and student athletes in the Barnegat School District where I am the Superintendent.  As a spectator, I am most proud of my own children.  During their sporting events, I am the screaming, excited, passionate, worried, on-the-edge-of-her-seat, proud mom.

I am not much of an athlete.  A few years ago I completed the Jersey Girl Triathlon, the Tough Mudder, the Color Run, and a bunch of 5K’s.  Exercise is essential for a healthy mind and body, yet lately, time is not on my side.

When I started my teaching career, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a High School Marching Band Director.  I know…crazy, right?  I was young and inexperienced but so incredibly passionate about music, teaching music, performing, listening, and working hard to provide rewarding musical experiences for my students.

(Don’t worry, this whole blog is not about music.  Hang in there…)

If you ask any Marching Band Director, musicianship (in all it’s beauty) is nearly impossible when the band’s instrumentation is spread over ten yards or more of a football field.  There are color guard flags and rifles impacting sound (and vision). Student musicians are trying desperately to hit their marks for the drill they have been working on since band camp.  It is still ninety degrees in late September. The band is wearing polyester uniforms. They are trying to keep in step with each other, watch and listen to the drum major, and their view is partially obstructed by a hat with a giant feather on it!   It’s kind of like trying to swim a 200 meter freestyle race with a blindfold on, one arm tied behind your head, and a five pound weight tied only around one ankle.

This, my friends, is what Marching Band is all about.

When I was a Band Director, there was another band director nearby.  Her name was Karen also.  Just like all the head football coaches knew each other, so did we.  The other Karen was amazing.  Her band placed in the top three bands for local, county, and state competitions year after year.  They were accomplished musicians.  Her students had mastered the “wall of sound.”  If you have never been to a marching band competition or a drum corps show, you have already stopped reading this blog.  The “wall of sound” blows your mind every time.  It is that moment in the show when the sound coming from that band in front of you simply lifts you out of your chair.  You can feel the music notes dappled across your face.  Your hair blows back and you can’t breathe.  This happens because it is LOUD but also because it is a moment of sheer beauty.  A moment of outstanding intonation…full, beautiful music.

The other Karen’s band also mastered amazing Latin rhythms, how to perform with character, when to play to the crowd, how to be amazing showman, and how to choose music that really showed off their talents.

The other Karen beat me every time.

So, I did what any coach would do.  I tried to emulate her.  She became my mentor and friend and she introduced me to Pat Summitt.  I never met the late, great coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers. But the other Karen told me to read, “Reach for the Summitt“.  It was the first book I read that motivated me, captured my attention, inspired me, and provided “coaching” strategies that I could apply to my work as a Marching Band Director.

The band’s performance improved.  I had an amazing mentor and friend in the other Karen.  But reading Coach Summitt’s book did something astounding for me.  It made me hungry to be led, a desire to be inspired, and drove me to improve my “coaching”. It gave me the courage to try and keep trying. Summitt’s book encouraged me to look within for strength, reach to others for support, and persevere even when I wanted to quit.

I believed in the things that Pat Summitt believed in and I still do today.  We are a team. Character Matters. Work together toward a common goal to achieve the best outcomes. MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH YOUR TEAM.

Pat Summitt said, “What I see are not the numbers.  I see their faces.”

As a teacher, I had the opportunity to see the faces of many, many students. Today I have the honor of seeing my former students as successful adults.  I see the current students in my district as amazing students with unyielding potential.

Pat Summitt was a hero to me and many others. As a woman, I was floored by her strength and her successes.

images summitt

In her memory, I will commit to what she believed in and reaffirm my beliefs in her teachings. Do everything with character and integrity. Your team is your family. Make connections.

Thanks, Coach.



Author: karenwoodedu

Karen Wood is the Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ. With twenty-three years in education, Ms. Wood's career has been spent primarily in administration. She enjoys mentoring novice administrators and being connected to inspirational educators and leaders across the country.

2 thoughts on “How Pat Summitt Changed My Life…”

  1. Thanks for sharing such a great piece of your history. Marching band director! Wow! As a family with deep basketball roots, we were inspired by Pat Summitt and her legacy to sports. What a leader and truly one of a kind!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great inspirational story. I have a daughter who is very involved in school and AAU basketball and she hopes to play in college. Pat Summitt is truly one of our favorites as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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