A sad day for all of us
Posted January 24, 2009
It was an honor to have known Coach Kay Yow. She was a Hall of Fame basketball coach, but more important, she was a Hall of Fame person.
Her long, courageous ordeal with cancer, which began back in 1987, ended Saturday morning, sadly, at the age of 66. Cancer was an illness from which she was ultimately unable to heal, but she dealt with it gracefully and openly. And it was the way she dealt with this deadly disease that inspired so many people.
Kay Yow loved to coach and she loved to win, and almost to the end of her life, she continued to do both. It was just her way. I heard her say so many times that coaching always lifted her up, made her feel better. She said that to not coach would make her feel like she was giving in to cancer. And Kay Yow was never one to give in to anything negative.
I have a lot of memories of Coach Yow. I was a young reporter at WRAL in the mid-1970s when she became the head coach of a fledgling N.C. State program. I know first-hand her commitment to make women's basketball viable.
I ran into her frequently at Reynolds Coliseum in those days, and she always had a smile and a greeting and a reminder that they had a big game coming up and that she would love to talk with me about it. And more often than not, I would get a camera crew over and we would do just that. It was easy to want to please Kay Yow, and it was because of her that I became a huge fan of the women's game.
The rise in popularity that you see today in women's basketball is because of people like Kay Yow, who worked tirelessly right from the very beginning to promote the sport. She knew that the only way to get people interested in women's basketball was to constantly talk up the game to whoever would listen. Kay Yow was all about women's basketball, and all she wanted was for fans to give a chance to the game she loved and believed in. She worked non-stop to do just that, winning over many, one by one.
For all her accomplishments as a coach, though, what I most remember about Coach Yow is the kind of person she was. In a profession where arrogance and cockiness are somewhat prevalent, she was none of that.
Kay Yow always had time for people. She was gracious and kind to all, whether it was the chancellor of the university or the people selling popcorn at her games. She always had a smile, and she would talk with anybody for as long as they wanted to talk with her.
I remember so well her return to coaching on Jan. 25, 2007. I was proud to be in Reynolds Coliseum that night.
She had been out since November, dealing with another recurrence of breast cancer, but she was determined that she was going to coach again. She took the floor that night for a game against Virginia to a standing ovation. Anyone there could see she wasn't close to 100 percent, but the gleam in her eyes that night and the smile on her face told us all how glad she was to be back. Her doctor had told her there was a glimmer of a chance she could return that season, and to Kay Yow, just a glimmer meant that it was going to happen.
The courage she showed then to the people she loved and who loved her back meant everything.
"It's always a huge boost to have your chief back," then senior star Ashley Key said at the time. "Just to be able to see her out there and knowing that she may have her weak moments, but she'll be strong for us ... that was enough of a boost in itself."
Added center Gillian Goring that night: "Seeing her fight makes me want to fight. I changed my whole attitude. The whole team changed their attitude to being a great team for her."
That team in 2007 became a team that defied odds, just like their coach and fought their way into the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.
Kay Yow did indeed love her players. Being around them made her feel whole. She was a competitor who did not like to lose, but she also knew that winning and losing a basketball game is not what life is really about.
"I said a long time ago in my career that if what I'm doing is just about W's and L's – wow, how superficial! I give up my whole life to that?" she said. "No, its about investing in people. If you just help one person in a small way, if they have a better life because of it, you know you've done something."
That was Kay Yow. The game of basketball was important, but not as important as the game of life. And Coach Yow was someone who tried to make each living moment something special.
So it's fitting that this Saturday began cool and cloudy, a sort of drizzly day. It's like the universe, too, was mourning the death of a great lady.