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Pat Summitt, an educator and coach known for her motivation on and off the court, was given the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award on Thursday during the 2012 NCAA Convention.
The longtime University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach was honored before a standing-room-only crowd at the Convention’s opening business session. NCAA President Mark Emmert gave the award to Tennessee Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan, who accepted the honor because Summitt was in Lexington, Ky., preparing her Lady Vols to play the Kentucky Wildcats later that night.
In accepting the award, Cronan called the woman she’s worked with for 29 years “a very special person and a very special coach.”
“I’ve always known her as a woman of integrity, a woman who is a great educator, a woman who is a competitor, and a woman who is the best ambassador that women’s basketball and the University of Tennessee has ever had,” Cronan said. Then she added, “And of course, the woman with ‘the stare,’ ” referring to Summitt’s laser-like focus on players when things aren’t going so well on the court.
Cronan also called Summitt a woman of courage in light of Summitt’s announcement in August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Summitt is continuing as Tennessee’s head coach, with the full support of the university administration.
“She is battling this disease just like she prepares for a game,” Cronan said.
“As we all know as educators, leadership is the backbone of everything we do each and every day,” said Summitt in a videotaped message. “As a head coach, I have a daily responsibility to make sure that our Lady Vol basketball players know that they are students first and athletes second. They are at the University of Tennessee to earn a degree and prepare for life after basketball. That is something I reinforce every day through words and action.”
NCAA President Emmert, who had just finished his State of the Association speech in which he called for fortifying the collegiate model, cited Summitt as an ideal example of what that model is all about.
“For four decades now, in nearly heroic ways, Pat has elevated not just women’s basketball but intercollegiate athletics overall,” Emmert said. “She is handling (her disease) with the kind of commitment and compassion and fierceness that you would expect. She has been a model in her behaviors for the young people she has dealt with all her life, and she really exemplifies this award.”