Although she has been living, coaching, and teaching in Miami for the last 27 years, when Susan Summons reminisces about her basketball exploits at Burke High, in the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League, at Roxbury Community College, and for the New England Gulls, she makes it sound as though she were lacing up her sneakers just yesterday.
“I’m a Beantown baby, what can I say?” Summons said during a telephone interview Monday.
In real time, however, the Miami Dade College women’s basketball coach has spent the last 27 years taking her Lady Sharks to 22 Region 8 championship tournaments while maintaining a 93 percent graduation rate among her players.
And on Jan. 7, the Roxbury native was selected to be enshrined in her fourth Hall of Fame in just five years: the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
She will be inducted alongside her former coach at Roxbury Community College and current school committee member, Alfreda Harris, during an awards ceremony July 26 at Northwest State College in Niceville, Fla.
“It’s really huge when you think about a kid who grew up in Roxbury, who dreamed big,” she said. “I always dreamed big while I was in Roxbury, I never focused on the gangs and the street violence around me and I tried not to let it get the best of me.
“Fortunately, I had basketball in my life and basketball has taken me around the world.”
After helping the Bulldogs win back-to-back city championships, Summons graduated from the Burke in 1975.
“We wore special uniforms, blue uniforms, which had pleats,” said Summons, who was also a six-time BNBL MVP. “It looked like a skirt but really underneath, if you didn’t know, it had bloomers. Isn’t that crazy, when you think about the uniforms players wear now, compared to what we wore then?”
Basketball wasn’t the only experience at the Burke that left an indelible mark. Summons said she also learned how to speak Spanish from a teacher named Mr. Cameron.
“Imagine, I’m living in Miami so I’m speaking Spanish now,” she said. “So thanks, Mr. Cameron, because I wasn’t sure when I would need it, but it certainly came in handy.”
Summons, who went to school during the infamous court-ordered desegregation in Boston, also credited a history teacher and assistant basketball coach named Judith Baker for teaching her about the city’s history.
“She was very instrumental in helping me learn about the history of the city of Boston and the impact history has on who you are and where you are going and how you are going to get there,” Summons said. “In order to understand where you are going, you have to know where you come from.”
During that time, she was one of the first Boston 350 Jubilee Award recipients under then-Mayor Kevin White.
But with few opportunities for female athletes after high school, Summons enlisted in the Army. She was granted an early honorable discharge after serving three years because she had an opportunity to play for the newly created women’s basketball team at Roxbury Community College, coached by Harris.
After leading RCC to back-to-back national championship appearances in 1977 and 1978, she went to play basketball at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, where she set an NCAA record by netting 43 points in one contest.
Summons was then the first African-American woman and first woman from Boston to be drafted in the country’s first women’s professional basketball league, the Women’s Professional Basketball League, by the New Jersey Gems before she was traded to her hometown team, the New England Gulls.
The league folded in 1981, a year after she joined, but Summons considers herself a pioneer who paved the way for today’s women’s league, the WNBA.
“There is a lot of history there, a lot of pioneers,” she said. “I was one of the first pioneers for girls' and women’s sports before girls' and women’s sports were huge. So it really behooves me and it really humbles me to know I was a pioneer to help open the doors for a lot of these players who are in college and are drafted and are getting media coverage.”
With no league to play in, Summons took a job as a police officer for the Boston Housing Authority. On weekends, she attended classes at the University of New Hampshire and eventually earned a degree in human services and counseling.
After graduating, she was offered a job teaching and coaching at Roxbury Community College, where she led the team to a state championship in the 1987-88 season during her three-year tenure.
Shortly thereafter, she took her current post at Miami Dade College, and her first team featured two players from the Burke: Ramona Edwards and Linda Collins.
“That’s part of the journey,” she said. “The journey evolves.”
Summons said she shares her election to the NJCAA Hall of Fame with people who helped her along in her journey.
“That’s a long leap [from Roxbury to the NJCAA Hall of Fame] so I have to really say this award and this honor is shared with all the kids in Roxbury, all the kids at the Shelbourne Center who aspire to be great and achieve their drams,” she said. “It’s shared with all kids at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School and all the kids in the BNBL league.”
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