Coach Kay Yow dies at 66

January 29, 2009 3:52:14 PM PST
She fought valiantly against a terrible disease and was an inspiration to thousands of fans.But in the end, breast cancer was one foe she could not defeat. North Carolina State’s Kay Yow, the Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach who won more than 700 games, died on Saturday. She was 66.

Click here for pictures from Yow's amazing career

Click to read tributes from Coach Yow's former players.

Yow, who was in her 38th year of coaching, will be remembered for the hundreds and thousands of lives she touched through basketball and through her tireless efforts to fight cancer.

Yow, first diagnosed with the disease in 1987, died Saturday morning at WakeMed Cary Hospital after being admitted there last week, university spokeswoman Annabelle Myers said.

"I think she understood that keeping going was inspirational to other people who were in the same boat she was in," Dr. Mark Graham, Yow's longtime oncologist, said Saturday.

Yow won more than 700 games in a career filled with milestones.

She coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988, won four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships, earned 20 NCAA tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998.

She also was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002, while the school dedicated "Kay Yow Court" in Reynolds Coliseum in 2007.

But for many fans, Yow was best defined by her unwavering resolve while fighting cancer, from raising awareness and money for research to staying with her team through 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 N.C. State men's coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.

"Kay taught us all to live life with passion and to never give up," said fellow board member George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. He said the network would remain committed to a research fund established in Yow's name.

"She's a driving force for what's going on today in the battle against cancer," ESPN commentator and former Notre Dame men's coach Digger Phelps said.

At Duke -- one of N.C. State's closest ACC rivals -- there was a moment of silence to honor Yow before the men's basketball game against Maryland on Saturday.

In her final months, Yow was on hormonal therapy as the cancer spread to her liver and bone. But she never flinched or complained, relying on her faith as the disease progressed. She commonly noted there were other patients with "harder battles than I'm fighting" and said it was inspiring for her to stay with her team.

"We're all faced with a lot of tough issues that we're dealing with," she said in a 2006 interview. "We know we need to just come to the court and let that be our catharsis in a way. You can't bring it on the court with you, but we can all just think of basketball as an escape for a few hours."

Yow announced Jan. 6 that she would not return to the team this season after she missed four games because of what was described as an extremely low energy level.

The team visited Yow in the hospital before leaving Wednesday for a game at Miami. interim head coach Stephanie Glance -- who led the team in Yow's absences -- met with the team Saturday morning to inform them Yow had died, Myers said.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to work with Coach Yow for the last 15 seasons. I suddenly find myself grasping to retain everything she has ever said and ever taught me," said Glance.

In Coach Kay Yow's last public appearance, she congratulated Bev Perdue on becoming North Carolina's first female governor in a taped message shown at the Junior League's Inaugural Ball on Jan. 9.

"Coach Yow's leadership, her zest for life, her ability to make us all dig deeper represented the best of North Carolina," Gov. Perdue said. "She was much more than a basketball coach. She was a teacher, a mentor, and an inspirational leader. She was a devoted Christian; the way she lived her life was an example to us all; I never heard her curse or yell. We are all blessed to have been touched by her life and she will be sadly missed."

Yow's fight was never more public than when she took a 16-game leave to focus on her treatments during the 2006-07 season. After her return, her inspired Wolfpack won 12 of its final 15 games with wins against highly ranked rivals Duke and North Carolina in a run that attracted plenty of fans wearing pink -- the color of breast-cancer awareness.

Her players also wore pink shoelaces for their coach.

"There were so many times I felt like giving up," forward Khadijah Whittington said after the Wolfpack's loss to Connecticut in the 2007 NCAA tournament's round of 16, "and then I see Coach Yow and she never gives up."

Yow always found ways to keep coaching even as she fought the disease. She spent most of games during that emotional 2007 run sitting on the bench while Glance stood to shout instructions at players or to help a weakened Yow to her feet.

"She's the Iron Woman, with the Lord's help," Glance said.

Yow was quick to embrace her role as an example for others battling the disease. She often found herself going about her daily activities in Raleigh only to have someone stop her and say they were praying for her or that she was an inspiration to them.

"When they say that, it really gives me a lift because it's at that time I know for sure that I'm not going through it for nothing," Yow said in 2007. "That means a lot to me. I have to go through it. I accept that, and I'm not panicked about it because the Lord is in control. But it just would be so saddening if I had to go through it and I couldn't help people.

Born March 14, 1942, Sandra Kay Yow originally took up coaching to secure a job teaching high school English at Allen Jay High School in High Point in the 1960s. Her boss, along with the boys' coach, agreed to help her plan practices and to sit on the bench with her during games. Midway through the season, Yow was on her own.

"Really, it was like love at first sight," she said in 2004.

She spent four years there followed by another year in her hometown at Gibsonville High, compiling a 92-27 record. She moved on to Elon, going 57-19 in four seasons before being hired at N.C. State in 1975.

Her original cancer diagnosis came the year before coaching the United States to the gold in the Seoul Olympics. She had a mastectomy as part of her treatment, then discovered a lump in November 2004 close to where cancer was first discovered. She had surgery that December and started on a regimen of radiation and daily hormone therapy. Still, the cancer came back again and again.

NC State is asking that anyone who wants to bring flowers or some other memorial items to the campus, please place them at the bell tower, because Reynolds Coliseum is reserved for Former President's Bill Clinton's visit Sunday.

By Saturday evening, a makeshift memorial had been set up near the bell tower with about 20 bouquets of flowers and a poster for mourning fans to leave messages. In addition, someone left a framed photo of Yow with a poem, "When Life Kicks You, Let It Kick You Forward" -- a reference to one of Yow's mottos.

North Carolina State's game against Wake Forest on Monday night has been postponed until Feb. 10. N.C. State's next game will be Thursday at home against Boston College.

Funeral arrangements are being made by Brown Wynn Funeral Home.

A public viewing will be held Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Colonial Baptist Church. The funeral will follow at 3 p.m. also at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary.

The burial will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Gibsonville Cemetery in Gibsonville, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

The WBCA's charity of choice is the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund?, in partnership with The V Foundation. You may support this Fund with any donations, raffles, sales, etc. that you might be doing.

Please send donations to:
WBCA
Attn: Megan Smith
4646 Lawrenceville Hwy
Lilburn, GA 30047

For more information about the WBCA, click here.


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