By Sheila Oliver and Roberta Herrin
The year 2013 has been a remarkable one for UNC head basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Her 2012-13 team finished the season at 29-7, she achieved her 900th win, and in September she will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Achieving her 900th win during the 2012-13 season has given Coach Hatchell the opportunity to pause and reflect on the people whose confidence in her ability to coach paved the way to her success. To show her appreciation to the people who hired her, Sylvia has launched what she refers to as her "900 Wins Thank You Tour."
Sylvia's "Thank You Tour" started in Talbott, Tenn., with a visit to Tommy Northern and his wife Anna Joyce. It's not often an elementary school principal can say that he gave a Naismith Hall of Fame Member her first coaching assignment, but Tommy Northern can say with pride that in the fall of 1973 he gave Carson-Newman college senior Sylvia Rhyne her first coaching job at Talbott Elementary School. Though the salary of $200 to coach basketball to seventh and eighth grade girls may have been Sylvia's motivation for accepting the job, she remembers the experience with fondness and is grateful to Mr. Northern for offering her the job. The Talbott girls' basketball team went 16-4 and their wins are not likely inscribed in an official record, but those games are forever recorded in Sylvia's heart because that young team inspired her passion for coaching. Recalling her years at Talbott Sylvia said, "I was hooked. I knew I was born to coach."
After thanking Mr. Northern for giving her that first coaching job, Sylvia headed to the home of Coach Pat Summitt, long-time coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols. Following Sylvia's graduation from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Sylvia enrolled in the master's of science program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. On the first day of class she met students who were destined to become her life-long friends. One of those classmates, Pat Head, was charged with coaching the women's basketball team. Sixty girls wanted to play basketball at UT - too many to earn spots on the team and too many to disappoint with cuts. Pat approached Dr. Nancy Lay, Coordinator of UT Women's Intercollegiate Athletics and asked if they could organize a junior varsity team. With Dr. Lay's permission Pat asked Sylvia to coach the JV team.
Said Sylvia, "Before tryouts, Pat had already asked Judy Rose and me to help her with the team so we were prepared to be her assistants. When those sixty girls showed up at tryouts Pat knew we had the makings not only of a great team, but we also had a group of younger players who could contribute to future teams. Forming that JV team was a visionary approach, and I will always be in Pat's debt for giving me the opportunity to be their coach."
Having been close friends since 1974 Pat is well aware that Sylvia appreciates the confidence shown in her almost forty years ago, but this "Thank You" was necessary to Sylvia.
Sylvia remarked, "Pat and I go way back and she knows how much I appreciate her, but one more time I had to let her know how much she means to me. We had a good long visit - reminiscing about our friendship and about coaching the sport we both love."
Wrapping up her trip to Tennessee, Sylvia's plans are to drive to South Carolina for the second leg of her "Thank You Tour." Having coached eleven years in Florence, S.C., she will visit with the men who gave her a start at Francis Marion College - former Athletic Director Gerald Griffin and Past-President Dr. Walter D. Smith.
Rounding out her tour of gratitude will be a visit with ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who in 1986 was serving as the athletic director at the University of North Carolina. "John gave me my 'dream job' at UNC and he stuck with me through some rough early years," said Sylvia. "I have to let him know how much his confidence still means to me."