When you think of NC State athletics, Kay Yow’s footprint at the university cannot be overlooked. Her legacy lives to this day, and from the day she arrived on campus in 1975 to when she passed away after a long battle with breast cancer in 2009, Technician covered every step.
In 1975, Yow stepped on to campus to coach women’s basketball, volleyball and softball and became the first full-time women’s coach at NC State in 1975. Her work ethic and enthusiasm were evident from the beginning as she started her first women’s basketball season in fall of 1975.
Sports writer Jimmy Carroll wrote Yow’s feature in Technician’s 1975-76 basketball preview, introducing the new coach who would build one of the biggest legacies in NC State’s history.
“Basketball practice is Kay Yow’s most precious moment. It’s like Christmas coming to a child every afternoon at four o’clock,” Carroll wrote. “It’s exciting as a young man’s first kiss or a girl’s first prom. It’s what she lives for.”
Kay Yow spoke to Carroll as the season began and said she wanted nothing else but to be a coach.
“‘To me, a coach is the greatest thing you could be,’ she said, as her eyes brightened. ‘That’s the most important thing to me. It’s the only contact I have in helping people learn and grow. The office work and things of that nature… I see that as helping others, but the reason I took this job is because I felt basketball is a medium in which to reach a lot of people and teach a lot of skills. It’s a means in which to develop yourself.’”
Success is an understatement for what happened in the 34 years that followed as NC State’s head women’s basketball coach. Not only is Yow the winningest women’s basketball coach in NC State’s history, she is also the fifth winningest in NCAA women’s basketball history.
Her 680-325 (0.677) record in Raleigh was highlighted by four ACC tournament championships, five regular-season titles, 11 NCAA Sweet 16 appearances and a trip to the 1998 Final Four.
Kay Yow never got complacent, though, always striving for the top. Every year, one of her goals was to play for a national championship, and that was the theme before the 1989-90 season, covered by Technician Assistant Sports Editor Tom Olson as a part of the basketball special on Nov. 1, 1989.
“Kay Yow has reached many levels of success on the mountain of life in the last few years, but still she strives to climb higher,” Olsen wrote.
‘I will never reach the top of my mountain,’ the head coach of the N.C. State women’s basketball team said. ‘For if one did reach the top of any mountain, the only way to go from there is down. I prefer to keep climbing.’”
A national championship never came for Yow, but she did reach the Final Four for the first time in 1998. The Pack fell to Louisiana Tech in the semifinal game, reaching the Sweet 16 two more times in her career before she stepped down in 2008.
Yow missed 16 games in the 2007-2008 season, but returned to coach the team in the NCAA tournament and led NC State to the Sweet 16. After starting the 2008-2009 season at the helm, she stepped down from the job as covered in a senior staff report by Technician sports Jan. 5, 2009.
“Yow, 66, continues to recover in her Cary, N.C. home from the overwhelming fatigue resulting from her long struggle with breast cancer. She remains optimistic that she will be in attendance at some of the team’s ACC games and possibly return later in the season, however, she doesn’t feel that her current health permits her to coach at the level needed for the program.”
Kay Yow passed away on Jan. 24, 2009 at WakeMed Cary Hospital at the age of 66. In what was certainly a time of mourning for the NC State community, Sports Editor Taylor Auten first reported the news for Technician.
Now, over a decade after her passing, her name lives on in the annual Play4Kay game, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and Kay Yow court in Reynolds Coliseum. Play4Kay was a concept that developed for the Hoops 4 Hope game started by Yow and has spread to events around the country.
The Hoops 4 Hope game on Feb. 15, 2009, three weeks after Yow’s death, was sold out, and although NC State beat a nationally ranked Virginia team that night, the fans were there to support Yow’s legacy and experience the emotional halftime ceremony, as covered by Technician Deputy Sports Editor Kate Shefte.
“The annual event raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Yow’s personal charity, the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund,” Shefte wrote.
Among Yow’s list of accomplishments are being inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000. She also won the John and Nellie Wooden Coach of the Year Award in 2000, the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award in 2007 and received the ESPY Award for Perseverance in 2007.
More importantly, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund has raised more than $7 million for scientific research focused on women’s cancers. Although Yow never got a national championship title, the legacy she left continues to reach goals and climb mountains bigger than basketball.