Feature

Kay Yow

The women’s basketball coach who championed her sport

The women’s basketball coach who championed her sport
Kay Yow
1942–2009

Over 38 years, women’s basketball coach Kay Yow amassed 737 wins, including gold medals for the U.S. team at the 1986 world championships and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But she was best known for her long tenure at North Carolina State University, where she became an inspiring figure while battling the breast cancer to which she succumbed last week at 66.

Yow “honed her basketball skills during hours of often solitary practice on a dirt backyard court,” said the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer. “The tall girl with the expressive dark eyes dominated her high school games, once scoring 52 points.” After graduating from college and coaching at two area schools, Yow joined North Carolina State in 1975 “as colleges were adapting to passage of Title IX, the landmark federal mandate that required schools to provide athletic opportunities for female students.” Her team, the Wolfpack, made 20 NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Final Four in 1998. But Yow also became a national spokeswoman for women’s basketball, lobbying tirelessly for the sport and mentoring young coaches.
 
First diagnosed with cancer in 1987, Yow coached continuously until November 2006, said The New York Times. When she returned after treatment and a 16-game absence, “Yow’s players, and sometimes their opponents, wore shoelaces in pink—the color for breast-cancer awareness.” Throughout the rest of her career she persevered despite grueling blood transfusions and chemotherapy. “She was carried off the court on a stretcher in February 2007 when she nearly fainted from an adverse reaction to medication.” But Yow never succumbed to self-pity; she once said, “I don’t think, Why me? I think, Why not me?” Elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, Yow is survived by two sisters and a brother. North Carolina State basketball is now played on the “Kay Yow Court” at Reynolds Stadium.

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