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President Barack Obama has announced he will award the legendary coach the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
UPDATE, April 19, 2012: President Barack Obama announced today that he will award University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, Reuters reported.
"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 unparalled success on the court and unrivaled loyalty from those who know her and those whose lives she has touched," Obama, a well-known basketball fan, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Obama also called her work on supporting Alzheimer's patients, families and research "truly inspirational," according to Reuters.
On April 18, Summitt, 59, announced she had stepped down from the job she had held since 1974, Sports Illustrated reported.
Last August, Summitt said that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, the New York Times reported. At the time, she said she intended to coach for many years, but over the season, health issues forced her to hand over many of her duties to her assistants.
Holly Warlick, Summitt’s assistant for 27 years, replaces her as head coach, the Associated Press reported. Summitt will get a new role: “head coach emeritus.”
“I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward,” Summitt said in a statement today, according to the New York Times. “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.”
"Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt,” Athletic director Dave Hart said, according to the AP. “I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role. She is an inspiration to everyone.''
Summitt is the winningest coach in college basketball, the AP reported. She became head coach of the Lady Volunteers 1974, when she was just 22, often driving the team bus and washing the team's jerseys in the early years, Sports Illustrated reported.
Under her leadership, the Lady Vols won 1,098 games and lost 208, the New York Times reported. The team won 8 national championships, 18 Final Fours, 16 conference titles and 16 conference tournaments. Her team’s victories won over fans at a school were football was king, and attendance at Lady Vols games soared from 5,063 viewers per game during the 1988-89 season to an average of 16,565 fans per game ten years later, according to Sports Illustrated.
Summitt also led the 1984 Olympic women’s basketball team to a gold medal, the New York Times reported.
This year, the Lady Vols made it to the NCAA tournament but lost the game that would have taken them to the Final Four, the New York Times reported.
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Summitt can also boast of another achievement most coaches of prominant men's college basketball teams have been unable to reach: All her players who completed their eligibility at Tennessee have graduated, according to the AP.
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