In a day and age where the longevity of most coaches, on any level in any sport, can be so short that we live in a “what-have-you-done-for-me-in-the-last-five-minutes” world, Susan Summons is the exception.
It was 35 years ago that a young Summons accepted a job as the new women’s basketball coach at the then Miami-Dade South.
And a few months ago, when the Sharks took to the floor to embark on a pandemic-shortened 21-game season, there was Summons, huddling up with “her girls” with a few last minute words of inspiration.
Having gone through a name change for the school, (now called Kendall Campus), a change of nickname (they used to be the Jaguars), Summons has been the one constant.
She runs the women’s basketball program for Miami Dade College and has served as a Professor in Health and Wellness and Professor of Psychology.
For three-and-a-half decades, Summons has been blazing a trail opening doors for South Florida players to go on to NCAA Division I and Division II programs and beyond. Off the basketball court, many of her former players are now coaches, teachers, doctors, police officers and others who have moved on to successful careers in all walks of life.
“Winning basketball games is great and we’ve done plenty of that around here over the years,” Summons said. “But my true goal when you take these young ladies under your wing, when their parents entrust their kids lives to you, my responsibility is to not only get them to excel on the court but off the court as well — try and open doors for them in life.”
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Madeline Pumariega became Miami Dade College’s first female president hen she was appointed last year, and Ramona Edwards is Director of Campus Administration at the Medical Campus.
Both Pumariega and Edwards were part of Summons’ first team when she took over the program in the fall of 1986.
Make no mistake about it though, Summons has done a whole lot more than teach life lessons. Her teams have done plenty of winning.
Summons has taken her team to 26 state championship tournaments, received the WBCA Carol Eckman Award as National Coach of the Year in 1993 (becoming the first junior college coach to receive an award that usually went to Division I coaches) and has ultimately compiled a 642-349 lifetime record making her one of the top eight winningest active community college head coaches in the country.
“You don’t just win with talent, you win with good people,” Summons said. “The secret to success? I’ve always been a firm believer that my job has never just been so much about basketball as it’s been about life. About building character, about building and mentoring young people to be all they can be. About establishing good relationships. about recognizing and helping students to lead by example, recognize their potential to pursue their dreams. You can’t win between the lines if you’re not winning outside of the lines.”
Summons herself was quite a player. Growing up in Boston, she excelled on the court, eventually catching the eye of Lamar head coach Cindy Russo, yes the same Cindy Russo that would eventually take over the FIU women’s program.
She eventually left Lamar a year early when she got a phone call that she had been a third-round draft choice of the New Jersey Gems of the Women’s Professional Basketball League.
Injuries shortened her career and led her back to Boston where she took over the program at Roxbury Community College as a coach and also became a police officer in Boston to “pay the bills.”
When RCC reached a No. 5 Division II national ranking in the mid-1980s, Summons was on everyone’s radar for a head-coaching position.
She had sent a few of her players to play for Russo, now at FIU and the South Florida connection had been made.
“When I came down here for the interview, I just felt such a connection to South Florida,” Summons said. “Something was pulling at me to accept this position and as it turned out, I had family ties to this area that I didn’t even realize at the time including finding out that my grandfather owned a real estate business in Coconut Grove.”
Summons had plenty of talented players to come through the program but perhaps the one that stood out the most was Danielette Coleman.
Coleman played for Miami Dade College for two years in the early 1990s before moving on to eventually become a two-time All American at Auburn. She wound up going overseas to play professionally in Europe before returning to the states where she had brief stints with the Houston Comets and Los Angeles Sparks making her the only Summons player to make it to the WNBA.
“What I remember most about her was how her enthusiasm was so infectious and it would just exude from her body and you just wanted to go out there and play so hard for her,” said Coleman, who is now married with three children and working as a teacher and social worker in Long Beach, California. “But it wasn’t so much about the basketball as it was the time she spent preparing us for life after basketball which we all knew was coming. It was about building character and learning to make the right decisions in life. I’m very proud of the woman, the wife and mother I’ve become and owe a lot of that to her.”
Now 63, Summons says she has no intentions of slowing down. Her team is 5-8 at the season’s midway point and she has every desire to continue trying to win games and impact the lives of her players.
“I’m in a job that I love doing and when you are lucky enough to have that, then it’s not really even a job anymore,” Summons said. “It’s not work, it’s passion. I look at Tom Brady and everybody wonders what’s keeping him going at his age and continuing to play at such a high level and I think it’s obvious that it’s his love and passion for what he does.
“Doing this is like breathing air for me. I just don’t know if I could ever enjoy anything else than coaching young women and hopefully having some kind of impact not only on the court to make them good players but more importantly have an impact on their lives moving forward after basketball.”