By Vincent Johnson, Contributing Writer
Longtime University of Tennessee womens basketball coach Pat Summitt is known for the piercing glare she gives her players while parading the sideline on the hardwood. But when the nations highest honor was placed around her neck, the icon who began as a small-town Tennessee girl, was all smiles.
President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to more than a dozen people at a White House ceremony on May 29.
The award was established by Former President John F. Kennedy in 1963, who referred to the Medal of Freedom as the highest civilian award in the United States.
At the same time, Summitt was an 11-year-old girl growing up on a farm in Clarksville.
Nearly 50 years later, she was awarded the honor, which recognizes her numerous accolades as the womens basketball coach at UT.
During her 38-year career, she won 1098 games, the most amongst all NCAA basketball coaches, men or women. In addition, she won eight NCAA championships. She has received countless awards, including being named the Naismith Womens Collegiate Coach of the Century.
Its hard to think of anyone who has had a greater impact on his or her profession, and I think we all know that Pats contributions to the game of basketball, to womens athletics, to the University of Tennessee, and to our state will be felt for many years to come, said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in congratulating Summitt on receiving the Medal of Freedom.
Diagnosed last year with early-onset Alzheimers disease, Summitt remained on the sideline for the 2011-12 season, but officially resigned as head coach.
She received the title of Head Coach Emeritus and was replaced by longtime assistant Holly Warlick.
Summitt has turned her personal struggle into a public cause serving as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimers through the Pat Summitt Foundation.
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 Alzheimers, Obama said during the ceremony last week.
He also added that Summitt helped pave the way for his two daughters, who are tall and gifted.
Other honorees of the award included singer Bob Dylan; novelist Toni Morrison; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens; Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts; and Shimon Peres, president of Israel.