Coach Pat Summitt Steps Aside and Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's hard to imagine the game of basketball without Pat Summitt. She is basketball. As the University of Tennessee women's basketball coach for 38 years, she was the standard of excellence all coaches sought to emulate. Her teams enjoyed success every player wishes to experience. As a basketball coach myself, I observed the manner in which she conducted herself, the discipline she demanded of her players, and the competitive spirit with which she dismantled the opposition--and I wanted to be just like her.

On Wednesday, Pat Summitt stepped aside as head coach, turning the reins over to longtime assistant Holly Warlick. She announced in August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia-Alzheimer's type. After an illustrious career, it saddens me that she has to leave the game this way. She has meant so much to so many, and this is just one of those things that leaves me shaking my head. Nonetheless, she leaves behind an incredible legacy. I am, however, pleased that she is remaining with the team as "head coach emeritus."

Her value to the game of basketball is best understood by listening to those who were most affected by her. Go here, to the right sidebar, to find links of comments and videos honoring Coach Summitt. Her accomplishments, of course, also speak for themselves. She boasts the following, among other things:

* winningest basketball coach--male or female--in NCAA Division 1 history
* eight NCAA championships
* 1,098-208 record
* 22 Final Four appearances (18 with the NCAA and four with the now-defunct AIAW)
* 16 Southeastern Conference regular-season titles
* 16 SEC tournament crowns.
* during her tenure, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament and never received a seed lower than No. 5

ESPN reports Coach Summitt's thoughts at this time:

"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," Summitt said.

"I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund."

Today, President Obama announced that he is awarding Coach Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to Olivier Knox:
President Barack Obama announced Thursday he was awarding retiring University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the country's highest civilian honor.

"Coach Summitt is an inspiration—both as the all-time winningest NCAA coach, and as someone who is willing to speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer's," Obama said in a statement one day after Summitt stepped down as the Lady Vols' coach.

"Pat's gift has always been her ability to push those around her to new heights, and over the last 38 years, her unique approach has resulted in both unparalleled success on the court and unrivaled loyalty from those who know her and those whose lives she has touched. Pat's coaching career may be over, but I'm confident that her work is far from finished. I look forward to awarding her this honor," the president said. The White House statement noted that Summitt "has taken Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball" and dubbed her "an unparalleled figure in women's team sports."

Coach Summitt has the unique gift of being able to bring out the best in those of us who have observed her and learned from her. As far as I'm concerned, she is the summit of all that is right, rewarding, and respectable about hard work and competition. May God bless her as she moves ahead in this new season of her life.


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