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Remembering Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, ‘unparalleled’ women’s sports pioneer

"Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports,” a speaker said as President Barack Obama awarded the legendary Tennessee Lady Vols coach a Medal of Freedom four years ago. Summitt died Tuesday at age 64 after years of battling early onset dementia. John Yang takes a look back at the women’s sports pioneer’s life on and off the hardwood, a life of passion and true grit.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    And finally tonight: the passing of the legendary Pat Summitt. The Hall of Fame women's basketball coach died early today in Knoxville, Tennessee, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's.

    John Yang looks back at her life.

  • JOHN YANG:

    She was famous for her icy glare, her toughness, and most of all her will to win.

    Pat Summitt brought women's basketball to the national stage and took Tennessee's Lady Vols to eight national championships. One came in 1998, when Tennessee went 39-and-0.

    PAT SUMMITT, University of Tennessee Basketball Coach: We were young, but we were very athletic, and very skilled, and I think the one ingredient that probably separated our team night in and night out was just our competitiveness.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Pat Summitt was always competitive, a star player in college, and head coach of the Lady Vols when she was just 22 years old.

    Over 38 years, Summitt racked up 1,098 wins, the most by any Division I college basketball coach ever, male or female. She never had a losing season. She was still at it in 2000, when she was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

  • PAT SUMMITT:

    I have always felt a tremendous responsibility as a coach and as a teacher to give to this game. I could never give to this game what this game has given or meant to me.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Then, in 2011, Summitt announced she had early-onset dementia. Her son, Tyler, spoke to the "NewsHour."

    TYLER SUMMITT, Son of Pat Summitt: She wakes up every day and thinks about the relationships that she has with those young ladies, her players. And she just loves being around them and making their lives better, not only on the court, but also off. And so there's nothing that could take that passion away from her.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Summitt coached one more season and retired in 2012.

  • WOMAN:

    Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports.

  • JOHN YANG:

    That year, President Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

    Today, a makeshift memorial grew at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and tributes rolled in, starting with Summitt's greatest rival, University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

    GENO AURIEMMA, University of Connecticut Basketball Coach: When people talked about women's basketball in America, college women's basketball in America, it was Pat Summitt and Tennessee.

  • JOHN YANG:

    In her 1998 book, "Reach for the Summit," she told of turning down an opportunity to coach the Tennessee men's basketball team. She asked, "Why is that a step up?"

    Summitt was 64 years old.

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