Sports world losses a legend

Published 12:02 am Sunday, January 25, 2009

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — 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.
Yet Kay Yow was about so much more than basketball.
The North Carolina State coach was a symbol of hope and courage even as she faced the cancer that ultimately took her life Saturday morning after a two-decade fight. She inspired people who never met her or cared about the sport, even the fans at rival schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In the end, all that coaching success almost became an afterthought.
Yow, first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, died at WakeMed Cary Hospital after being admitted last week, university spokeswoman Annabelle Myers said. Yow was 66.
Plans for a memorial service were incomplete, but the Wolfpack’s game at Wake Forest on Monday was postponed to Feb. 10. Its next game will be Thursday at home against Boston College.
By Saturday evening, a makeshift memorial had been set up near the campus’ 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.
Yow was 737-344 in 38 seasons as coach — 34 with the Wolfpack. She 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.
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.
There were moments of silence to honor Yow before several basketball games Saturday, including before the N.C. State-Boston College men’s game in Boston. Duke — one of N.C. State’s closest ACC rivals — also honored Yow before the men’s game against Maryland.
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.
Yow announced earlier this month 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. Associate head coach Stephanie Glance — who led the team in Yow’s absences — met with the team Saturday morning to tell them Yow had died, Myers said.
Dr. Mark Graham, Yow’s longtime oncologist, remembered how Yow always took time to talk to other patients when she came in for treatments.
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. The run attracted plenty of fans wearing pink — the color of breast-cancer awareness. Her players also wore pink shoelaces.
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 help a weakened Yow to her feet.
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. She spent four years there followed by another year in her hometown at Gibsonville High. 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.
She missed two games of the 2004-05 season while attending an eight-day nutritional modification program, which called on her to eat an organic-food diet free of meat, dairy products and sugar. She stayed on the diet for eight months, losing 40 pounds.
Still, she cheated on her organic diet during home recruiting visits because she didn’t want to offend anyone by passing on a home-cooked meal.
Over the years, Yow never lost her folksy, easygoing manner, and refused to dwell on her illness, though it colored everything she did almost as much as basketball. Ultimately, her philosophy on both were the same.
Yow is survived by a brother, Ronnie, and sisters, Debbie and Susan. Debbie Yow is the athletics director at Maryland and Susan Yow is the coach at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.
N.C. State Athletics:
The V Foundation for Cancer Research: