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Daniel Boone’s Tammy Larkey Pearce reflects on her time under Pat Summitt

The team photo from Tammy Larkey Pearce's freshman season as a member of the Lady Vols.
The team photo from Tammy Larkey Pearce’s freshman season as a member of the Lady Vols.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Disappointment.

That simple, but complex word is the one thing that 1981 Daniel Boone graduate Tammy Larkey Pearce said that she felt like she never wanted to hear from her former coach Pat Summitt.

But that was the one word that came to her mind when she heard that the winningest Division I basketball coach of all time had passed away during the morning of Tuesday, May 21. Pearce spent two seasons, 1981-1983, at the University of Tennessee before deciding to transfer to East Tennessee State University.

A photo of Tammy Larkey Pearce is shown in the 1981-1982 Lady Vols game program.
A photo of Tammy Larkey Pearce is shown in the 1981-1982 Lady Vols game program.

And while her career under Summitt only last 42 games — she was on the 1983 team that delivered Summitt’s 200th career win — Pearce said Summitt was a true leader and inspiration in her life.

“She really did care about her players and you just always wanted to make sure that you were doing your best for Coach Summitt,” said Pearce about her former coach that racked up a 1098-208 record over her career. “I learned more about life, playing for her, than anything I have ever done in my life and I think a lot of those things have carried over to my professional life.”

Summitt began to recruit Pearce as she started her sophomore year of basketball. Summitt, a Tennessee native — who played at UT-Martin, before becoming the coach at Tennessee at the age of 22 in 1974 — knew how to reach the Gray native, as she harped on representing their home state. She mentioned more than once the pride that Pearce would feel as the Lady Vols made their way through the Power T before every home game at the Stokley Center.

Pearce frequented Lady Vols camps and once she picked up a basketball in eighth grade, she had a dream of becoming a Lady Vol.

The 6-foot-5 post player was selected as a Parade All-American, Street and Smith All-American, Adidas All-American and Converse All-American during her senior year at Daniel Boone. But all of those accolades didn’t separate her much from her teammates during her time under Summitt, as all the players had a similar laundry list of accolades.


“As an adult, looking back, in those two years I would have never thought I was able to take away what I did,” Pearce said. “She gave me an opportunity that not a lot of people have and she believed in me. I was very blessed and fortunate to cross her path and to be able to be under her influence for two years.”


However, it was early in Pearce’s career that she knew that expectations were sky high.

During her freshman year the Lady Vols played two Orange and White games, one of which took place at Daniel Boone. During one of those games, Pearce said she was riding high after a 32-point, 15 rebound performance. But Summitt quickly brought her back down to earth.

“After the game she said, ‘That was the worst game I have ever seen you play.’,” Pearce said. “I thought, what is she talking about? I was devastated. But she wanted me to realize that (scoring) wasn’t everything. You have to pass, you have to work hard every single second you’re on the floor and things like that.

“I would go through what I would do in high school and it wouldn’t be good enough and I would just think, ‘what, I can’t do it anymore,’ but you can,’.”

Pearce said that she got much of how she operates today as the principal at Liberty Bell Middle School from the lessons she learned from tumultuous Summitt practices and games.

“She was a person that cared about her players, she pushed me more than I have ever been pushed before,” Pearce said. “When you feel like you were doing all you could — you were emotionally, physically and mentally drained — she would push you more. And you didn’t think you could do it, but when you got to the other side you realize that you could.

“She gave us whatever we needed as far as support, but it was never good enough for her and that could be a negative thing or that could be a positive thing. But I just feel like as far as being able to get through tough times and make tough decisions or letting things roll off your back, she provided us with those life skills.”

Summitt also helped provide opportunities to Pearce and other young ladies in Tennessee when, in 1979, she demanded that the girls game be switched from the old style of playing — which consisted of 6-on-6, with three players for each team relegated to only offense or defense — to what we know now as the women’s game.

The legendary coach — who had just finished off her first of many 30-win seasons — went on record saying that if things didn’t change, than she would not recruit any in-state players. But, as it turns out, Pearce would be one of the first in-state recruits that Summit was able get after the change.

However, after some time, Pearce seemed to lose her passion for the sport, which resulted in her transfer. That day sticks out in her mind, as she recalled trying to get in touch with Summitt to tell her she was transferring. Pearce said that she tried unsuccessfully to call her coach multiple times, but there was no answer. Finally when Summitt answered Pearce requested a meeting.

“I think she kind of knew,” Pearce said. “Because I was one of three freshman and during our freshman year one of the other three left at Christmas, because it was hard. She tried to encourage me to stay, but I just felt like I needed to leave.”

Pearce and Summitt would cross paths again when Pearce tried out for the 1984 Olympic team. Pearce was able to make it through the second cut, but that wasn’t her concern when she first got there. Pearce admitted to being nervous about running into her former coach, but being the professional Summit was, there was no ill will.

“She very cordial and very nice,” Pearce said. “I was worried what she would think about me since I transferred, but like I said, she was a class act.”

The final time that she would see her former coach was when she took her daughter, Sydney, to Summitt’s basketball camp about 10 years ago. The younger Pearce wanted a picture with the legendary coach, so her mother obliged, running into her former coach one last time.

While that was the last time that she saw Summitt face-to-face, Pearce admits to thinking about her and using her techniques daily, even quickly spurting the quote, “Excuses are not accepted and laziness is not tolerated,” from her former coach.

“As an adult, looking back, in those two years I would have never thought I was able to take away what I did,” Pearce said. “She gave me an opportunity that not a lot of people have and she believed in me. I was very blessed and fortunate to cross her path and to be able to be under her influence for two years.”