"We Back Pat" Basketball Games on Sunday, Jan. 26 Bring Attention to Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Welcome to the finale of “We Back Pat” week! This week – which ends Sunday, Jan. 26 – is designed to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and the work of the Pat Summit Foundation.  This foundation was created in 2011 by Pat Summitt, Tennessee’s legendary women’s basketball coach, in the wake of her diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 59.

    During this week, NCAA women’s basketball teams are using their games to focus attention on the fight against dementia. And tomorrow (Sunday, January 26), ESPN will highlight the foundation during their broadcast of three women’s basketball games featuring Southeast Conference teams. The first game will involve South Carolina and Vanderbilt while the second game will pit Auburn against Florida. The final game will feature Tennessee, where Coach Summitt still serves as head coach emeritus, against Texas A&M.

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    This type of effort isn’t new. In fact, a precedent of using NCAA basketball games to bring awareness to a specific cause already has been set. For instance, NCAA basketball teams already compete in two December basketball tournaments, the Jimmy V. Men’s Basketball Classic and the Jimmy V. Women’s Basketball Classic. These tournaments support the battle against cancer through the V Foundation for Cancer Research while also honoring the memory of the foundation’s namesake, Coach Jim Valvano, whose North Carolina State University team won the 1983 NCAA Basketball National Championship. Coach Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1992 and died in 1993. In the period of time between his diagnosis and death, Coach Valvano worked with ESPN to create the V Foundation to fight cancer.

    In the same vein, Coach Summitt and her son, Tyler, are using the Pat Summitt Foundation to try to focus the public’s attention and resources on dementia.  During the announcement of the creation of the foundation, Coach Summitt said, "Tyler and I have decided to join this battle, not just for us, but also for the millions of families affected by this disease. I have always told our players, our greatest opportunities are disguised as our greatest obstacles. It is time to treat this obstacle as an opportunity and a stepping stone to a cure."

    The Pat Summit Foundation is devoted to three efforts. The first is to make people aware of and then educate them about Alzheimer’s disease, including its onset and treatment. Secondly, the foundation aims to provide support to people who have Alzheimer’s disease as well as their families and caregivers. Finally, the foundation supports research that is targeted to treatment and eventually curing this cognitive disease.

    Thus far, the foundation has given six grants totaling $157,500. These funds have been used in a variety of ways, including developing a resource entitled “How to Evaluate the Quality of Residential Care for Persons with Dementia,” sponsoring a Nutrition and the Brain Conference hosted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and purchasing a van for Alzheimer’s Tennessee, Inc. that provides transportation to adult day care, caregiving training, support groups and other types of community activities.

  • Personally, I think the “We Back Pat” effort is a wonderful initiative that will go a long way in humanizing early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Whereas Coach Valvano died soon after creating his foundation, Coach Summitt continues to be a visible spokesperson for this effort. For instance, an ESPN photo taken Thursday shows her with Florida Coach Amanda Butler and Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick prior to the “We Back Pat” game between those two teams in the Lady Vol’s home stadium. This effort also hopefully will open the eyes of a generation -- college students -- about the cruel nature of dementia and may spur some of them to focus their professional careers on stopping this terrible disease.

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    So what can you do? I hope at the very least you take a few moments Sunday to catch one of these games in person or on television so you can not only enjoy the high level of basketball that Coach Summitt's teams helped foster, but also to learn more about her foundation. Take a few minutes to read up on Coach Summitt’s life and impressive career and also about her fight against early-onset Alzheimer’s. And if you’re so moved, I hope you’ll make a donation to support this very worthwhile cause.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    SEC. (2014). SEC “We Back Pat” week.

    The Pat Summitt Foundation. (ND). Grants.

    Voepel, M. (2014). SEC, alumni embrace “We Back Pat.” ESPN.com.

Published On: January 25, 2014