Obama hails Pat Summitt as role model in medal ceremony

President Barack Obama looks to Pat Summitt, former women's college basketball head coach, as he awards her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Photo by Carolyn Kaster, AP2012

President Barack Obama looks to Pat Summitt, former women's college basketball head coach, as he awards her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Legend: A tribute to Pat Summitt

WASHINGTON — To her already long list of remarkable accomplishments, former University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt can now add yet another distinguished honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Barack Obama presented Summitt and a dozen other legends in the political and cultural arenas with the medal — the nation's highest civilian honor — during a standing-room-only ceremony at the White House on Tuesday.

Summitt sat between sunglasses-wearing rock star Bob Dylan and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, also medal recipients, while Obama marveled at what she accomplished in her 38-year career, which included more victories than any other college basketball coach, male or female.

More importantly, Obama said, she has been a role model not only to the young women she has coached, but to young girls across the country, including his own daughters, Sasha and Malia.

"Knowing that because of folks like coach Summitt, they're standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong, then I understand that the impact that these people have had extends beyond me," Obama said. "It will continue for generations to come."

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other endeavors.

For Summitt, 59, the honor comes just two months after she stepped down as head coach at UT and just eight months after she disclosed that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

Summitt's legendary feats as the Lady Vols' head coach included 1,098 victories and eight national championships. She was named NCAA Coach of the Year eight times and has been a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame since 1999. She now holds the position of head coach emeritus at UT.

At Tuesday's ceremony in the White House East Room, Obama lauded Summitt for her tenacity on the basketball court, and off.

When a doctor first told Summitt she suffered from dementia, "she almost punched him," Obama said.

When a second doctor advised her to retire, she fired back, "Do you know who you're dealing with here?"

"Obviously," Obama said, "they did not. As Pat says, 'I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn and call the cows. But what I'm really known for is winning.' "

Summitt has applied the same toughness in her fight against the illness that ended her career, Obama said.

"That's why anyone feeling sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare," Obama said. "Or she might punch you."

Just before Obama placed the medal around Summitt's neck, a military aide read aloud a list of her career highlights and called her "an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports."

In the audience were Summitt's son, Tyler, who sat directly behind Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama's deputy chief of staff, who is a UT grad and was dressed in a bright, Tennessee-orange dress; U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville; and state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, and his wife, LeTonia.

Besides Summitt, other medal recipients included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn; novelist Toni Morrison; and labor and civil rights leader Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta.

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Comments » 13

bigorangesob writes:

Great article

jack1111 writes:

A good and decent President.

PreachersKid writes:

Wonderful photographs... Thank you, Mr. President, for honoring our Pat.

KTowner writes:

A wonderful honor for a great coach.

Theo writes:

Wow - what a wonderful tribute. I have noticed that President Obama's oldest is pretty tall and evidently plays basketball. How great for him to acknowledge that Pat's impact will go on helping young women be strong and confident.
Very proud for Pat today.

Sand_Pebble (Inactive) writes:

Gosh darn it, that President Obama is right about something. As a father of a young girl, I am ecstatic to have such an awesome role model for young women. Pat Summit is the best coach ever regardless of the gender. Something for all of us to strive for, to be the best at whatever we do.

Caneoverthere writes:

Congrats Coach.

voloffaith writes:

in response to TROLLING_IS_FUN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bye Bye Miss American pie ..took my Yugo to the sprinkler system ,but the city had turned off the water so it was dry.....this will be the day I die...so good ole boys were drinking Dr. Pepper and eating Moon pie....Bye Bye don't ewe cry you will be removed for spouting that black eye....Grow up and leave the political spewing to regular KNS NON-SPORTS PAGE.....Site police defamatory(even if factually correct)remarks require vamoosing this post...

Theo writes:

in response to Icthus:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)


civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

in response to Icthus:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What you have is much worse than dementia.

Great honor for a great lady, who continues to be a tremenous asset for the University of Tennessee.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

I meant TREMENDOUS asset for the University of Tennessee.

Jephry writes:

A well deserved honor for a great, great American lady. I am so proud to have had the opportunity to grow up watching Pat Summitt's incredible work, albeit from afar. One of my most prized possessions is the basketball autographed by Coach Summitt that holds a place of honor on a pedestal in my home. Thank you, Coach Summitt, for all you have done and continue to do for all of us. =)

Vols1227#1401106 writes:

Truly an honor deserved - not just the basketball Pat Summitt - but the person Pat Summitt IS. She has "molded" countless young women over the years through her many teachings. She is the PILLARS that truly hold the University of Tennessee's dedication, spirit and love for all. And she continues to hold her strength for herself and others going through her same illness. I "walked" my Mother through that illness - and it takes SUMMITT STRENGTH. Bless you Pat Summitt. We love you.

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