The first time I met Pat Summitt face-to-face, I nearly peed myself.
   
 It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I had just finished my first day of work as a counselor at the Pat Head Summitt Basketball Camps. To be honest, I’m not a good basketball player and I doubt I was a qualified choice as a counselor at the camp. Luckily for myself and those in attendance, the only physical activities my job consisted of were opening the gyms, sweeping the floors, filling the water buckets and keeping track of the clock.
    
After working nine hours at Pratt Pavillion, Tyler Summitt, myself and another friend of ours jumped into his car to drive back to his home. Once we got there and saw our other friends going towards the kitchen, we ran in to grab some food. After spreading out an assortment of snacks and effectively dirtying up what was once a spotless counter, Coach Summitt walked into the room.
    
None of us knew she was home, and in our hunger-induced daze we didn’t notice her car parked outside.
    
Tyler jumped up immediately and gave his mother a hug, and our other friends waved genially and greeted her with, “Hey Coach, how are you today?” She responded with the same type of enthusiasm, and then it was my time to speak.
    
The second she had entered the room, my mind began racing around for what I should do and say. And with her attention turned completely on me, I froze. First I mumbled something incoherent; and then from sheer fright I grabbed a dish from the sink, started scrubbing it and then with my voice’s strength dropping with every word to the point that the last one was nothing more than a mere whisper, I said, “Hey Mrs. Summitt, nice to meet you.” She probably didn’t hear what I said completely, I doubt anyone could have. But she looked at me, smiled, said hello and then walked outside to see her two golden retrievers.
    
Without even saying a word, Pat Summitt had reduced me to a scared, speechless child, something that anyone who knows me would find hard to believe.
    
None of this is meant as an insult to coach Summitt, but rather from the very beginning it impressed upon me the awe that she can inspire in everyone. Pat, at every stage of her career, has proven time and again to be larger than life, and there in her kitchen, she proved to the 17-year-old version of me that she commanded respect. Even without meaning to.
    
Over the past three years, I have gone to the Summitt home, eaten dinner at her table, slept in one of the guest beds and walked her dogs, and at every moment, she has been one of the kindest people I have ever met. Her on-court stare is legendary, but her off-the-court demeanor is disarming. In person, she is almost the opposite of the visage her scowl can create. She’s warm, kind, a doting mother, a funny storyteller and an incredible cook. But at every meeting I have ever had with her, I’ve felt that exact same awe that overtook me four years earlier.
    
Pat Summitt gave 38 years to this university and its women’s basketball program. She came here as a graduate student from Tennessee-Martin, and after years of service she is stepping down as not only the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, but also as a figure who will forever be revered at this school, this region and in the lives of every person she touched.
    
Her final season was conducted the same as the previous 37. She scowled, she glared, she yelled and the end result was mostly the same — she won a lot of games. Though her final game will go down as a loss to Baylor, but that does nothing to change the 1,305-game legacy that predated it.
   
 She is the greatest coach this program has ever had, and she is the greatest coach this school has ever had (sorry to all Gen. Neyland lovers). But she is also more than that; she is a symbol for what is right in college basketball. Every player who completed her eligibility under Summitt graduated. Her players and her demeanor backed up the dying idea of a true student-athlete, and for that I will always remember, respect and root for Pat Summitt.
    
With her stepping down due to health reasons, I am conflicted on what emotions to feel. At first I am sad, as I am sure everyone else is; her illness is a tragedy. It’s one of those things that was an unexplainable turn in the road. But honestly, all I feel right now is happiness. I want to celebrate what she is and what she has done, and I think we all should take a minute to bask in the awe that is Pat Summitt.
   
 In the coming years, thousands of words will be crafted to try to describe who she is and what she has meant to this community and this school. In that future, however, I hope I can be better prepared than I was at that first meeting, and maybe, if I am lucky, get a coherent word or two out.

Preston Peeden is a junior in history. He can be reached at ppeeden@utk.edu.