When the boy was preparing to enter kindergarten, his father and I were told by his preschool teachers that he should be held back a year, due to immaturity. “His socialization skills are not on par with the other children…” His preschool teacher informed. “Is he intelligent enough to go?” I questioned, knowing her answer would be “Yes,” but she added, “However his socialization skills are lacking”. “There’s more important criteria than his socialization with other students we should consider, like his height, early birthday, his intelligence…” We argued and then sought advice from numerous (more qualified in my opinion) people on the subject. One person in particular I will always remember was Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team.
My friends from college and I spent a long weekend in Las Vegas, NV while my family vacationed in Knoxville, TN, where their grandmother lived. I flew from Knoxville, to Chicago and then caught a flight to Sin City from there. When I flew out of Vegas, my route was the same in reverse and when I boarded my plane from Chicago to Knoxville, lo and behold, Pat Summitt sat in the seat next to mine. I can’t tell you how long it took me to work up the courage say, “May I ask you a question, Are you Pat Summitt?” but somehow I did. “Why yes, and you are?” She returned. “Hi, I’m Marsha8of9…” I said as we shook hands in greeting. Then I fumbled with what came out next. “I’ve been a fan of yours, I mean your program since you beat… I mean won that first championship.” “Why thank you, I’m glad to hear this,” She replied. “What’s bringing you to Knoxville?” She asked and I explained quickly that I was rejoining my family in Knoxville after a memorable trip to Vegas with some friends. Then politely she asked if I would share the USA Today I was reading, with her and I did.
After a spell, when we’d both had read enough of the news of the day, she asked me, “How many children do you have?” “Two, a boy and a doll…” I said. “I have a son Tyler, he’s our pride and joy, just as I’m sure your children are to you,” She replied. “Yes, my son is preparing to enter Kindergarten, but we’re a little worried about our decision,” I said. “Why is that?” She asked. “Well his preschool teachers seem to believe we should hold him back another year for socialization issues. But he’s smarter than I am and he’s going to be very tall. We don’t want to put any additional pressures on him if we hold him back…” I explained. She nodded her head taking in what I said before she answered, “My son Tyler has ADD and we were advised to hold him back a year as well, to help him mature before entering elementary school. We weighed all the pluses and minuses too, but at the end of the day, we just wanted our son to be happy. So we held him back and he’s done very well. But, I won’t tell you there wasn’t a lot of soul searching and praying to come to that decision. You just have to follow what your gut tells you and pray your decision is what’s best for your son”.
I thanked her for the bit of wisdom as our conversation drew to a close. When the plane began to make it’s final approach, she asked me, “Do your children like cookies?” Smiling back at her I replied, “Of course, their children…” and we both chuckled. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out two large sugar cookies, professionally decorated to resemble basketballs and wrapped in cellophane. “I was in Chicago to give a speech this afternoon and they handed me these cookies to take home. Would you be interested in giving them to your children?” “Sure, I’m sure they’ll love them…” I replied taking the cookies from her and feeling like the most blessed person on that plane.
Shortly before we disembarked from the plane, I thanked her again for the nice conversation and cookies, and then wished her well on her upcoming season. In the end, we decided to enroll the boy in half day kindergarten, hoping that would help with his socialization issues. Little did we know at the time, his Asperberger’s was the root of the problem, not maturity.
Today as I read of Pat Summitt’s passing from Alzheimer’s at the ripe young age of 64, I couldn’t help but recall that plane ride so long ago. She was right, the boy’s father and I needed to find a solution that worked the best for our son and I’ve been grateful all these years for her advice and wisdom. Rest in heaven Pat and thank you from the generations of women you’ve inspired one way or another.