Kay Yow: 1942-2009

By Yolande Lezine
Updated: January 27, 2009

HOUSTON — Women’s college basketball lost an icon over the weekend when it was announced that North Carolina State coach Kay Yow had lost her battle with cancer at the age of 66.

Yow, who had compiled a record of 737-344 in 38 seasons (four at Elon and 34 at NC State), was a symbol of hope and courage. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987.

Even though she had this deadly disease, she faced the cancer with courage.

She inspired people who never met her or cared about the sport, even the fans at rival schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Her resume had almost everything a coach could want from conference titles and NCAA Tournament trips to an Olympic gold medal and more than 700 career victories.

“Kay showed us how to handle one of the most difficult things-cancer- – in the most dignified and courageous manner,” Rutgers head women’s coach C. Vivian Stringer stated.

“She taught us what it is to have real passion for the sport, any sport. She continued to fight and went about doing what she loved best: coaching.”

North Carolina State Wolkpack game scheduled for Monday was postponed until February 10th. Everyone on the campus of NC State and others around the country who have had the privilege of knowing her have very heavy hearts.

The world has lost a true angel and I know personally that God has her spirit in his presence. A makeshift memorial has been set up near the campus bell tower with more than 40-50 bouquets of flowers and a poster for mourning fans to leave messages.

One mourner left a framed portrait of her bearing one of her famous mottos “When Life Kicks You, Let It Kick You Forward”.

Yow was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002. She also coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988, won four ACC tournament championships, earned 20 NCAA Tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998.

NC State also dedicated the basketball court in Reynolds Coliseum as the “Kay Yow Court” in 2007. Basketball took a back seat to Yow. She will be remembered most for taking the time to make others aware of cancer and helping to raise money for research.

All of this was done while she continued to stay with her team during the debilitating effects of the disease and chemotherapy treatments.

She served on the board of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which was founded by ESPN and her friend and colleague, former NC State men’s coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.

Yow never dwelled on her illness. She just wanted to make a difference in trying to help others. And she truly touched all of those who had a chance to meet her.

She is survived by a brother Ronnie, and sisters Debbie and Susan. Debbie Yow is the athletic director at the University of Maryland and Susan Yow is the coach at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

Funeral arrangements are pending.