When she learned that former Kentucky public address announcer Jim Ingle passed away last month, Debbie Yow called and left a voice mail message. She wanted one simple fact known: “He was nice to me.”
Those five words begged for a return call and an explanation. Here it is:
Ingle did the P.A. for Kentucky’s women’s basketball team when Yow was the coach in the late 1970s. At that time, few women’s teams across the country had full-time coaches. Typically, the women’s basketball programs were part of campus recreation. Coaches were barely more than volunteers.
Yow’s salary for her first season as coach in 1976-77 was $9,000. She got a raise to $11,000 in Year 2. A raise to $18,000 in her third season came after being summoned to then-president Otis Singletary’s office.
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“I was worried I had done something wrong,” she said. “Instead, he said, ‘Debbie, Mrs. Singletary reminded me this morning that I need to give you a raise, so this is what it will be.’ I was stunned, but happy.”
The humble beginnings of her coaching career included buying a small television “on time,” Yow said. “Paid $32 a month for quite a while.
“Also, paycheck day meant I could buy grapes. Funny what a person remembers.”
Yow didn’t mind living on a limited budget. She was happy to be coaching. But she was sensitive to how she was perceived.
“I felt I was always trying to justify the fact that this was OK, that we should have women’s basketball in college,” Yow said. “And, yeah, it’s even OK if you have a full-time coach.”
Ingle seemed to agree.
“He treated me with respect,” she said. “I could tell he was proud to be associated with us.”
In the summer of 1977, Yow arranged a trip to five European countries for her team. Before she and her players went to Europe, Yow happened to cross paths with then men’s coach Joe B. Hall.
“He took $100 out of his wallet and said, ‘I want to give you this money for the trip,’” Yow recalled. She protested. He insisted, saying, “You need to have souvenirs to bring back.”
About a week later, Hall offered Yow a check for $100. She again protested, saying he had already given her $100. “The money was from me,” Hall said. “The check is from my wife.”
Yow never got around to thanking Hall for what she called “one of the most kind gestures that’s ever been made to me, as a young professional without much money and still feeling a little bit nervous about being a basketball coach. It was all very new and he made me feel I belonged. I will never forget that.”
During Yow’s time at Kentucky, the women’s team got to move its practices from a campus rec gym to Memorial Gymnasium. “Going to Memorial for practice was like a religious experience,” she said.
Yow was back at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday. As N.C. State athletics director, she led a delegation of staffers on a tour of the coliseum, the Joe Craft Center and the Wildcat Coal Lodge. N.C. State is planning to build a basketball dorm that will house the women’s team as well as the men’s. Yow said she knew of at least eight or nine schools with similar housing for their basketball teams.
She’s come a long way since having to transport basketballs in the trunk of her car from the rec center for her Kentucky team’s practice in Memorial Coliseum.
Noting how differently women’s teams are perceived now, Yow credited Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart. “It’s a sea change,” she said, “and he’s the driver behind it all. I’m a Mitch Barnhart fan.”
A car pulled up interrupting Yow’s then-and-now reflection. One of her former players, Tanya Fogle, climbed out of the car and embraced the coach that gave her a Kentucky scholarship 40 years ago.
“I lost 40 pounds from May to August to get that scholarship,” Fogle said. Two brothers helped her lose weight. “I jogged from one end of Lexington to the other,” she said. She ate only fish and chicken. She weighed in every week.
Of the scholarship, Yow said, “She earned it.”
Yow recalled how Fogle didn’t mind the pain involved in taking a charge or delivering one.
The coach and player draped arms around each other’s shoulders as they reminisced about the early years of Kentucky women’s basketball. Then Fogle got back in her car and drove away. Yow noted how Fogle had turned her life around after an arrest in 2002 and jail time.
As she spoke, Yow wiped tears from her eyes.