NC State

Yow was selfless, optimistic and irrepressible

Kay Yow's goodbye message Friday reminded me of the first time I met her, 30 or so years ago on a chilly afternoon in Maryland's Cole Field House.

Then, as always, Yow refused to let anything be about her. It was all about others.

Friday, in a video recording that the former N.C. State women's basketball coach filmed some time ago, she emphasized the importance of religion. Her parting wish was that those in attendance at Cary's Colonial Baptist Church -- and far beyond -- seek a greater reward from life than gold medals and gold bullion.

Yow, who died Saturday after a long battle with breast cancer, may have been the most selfless person I've ever met.

She was a hopeless optimist. I told her that once and her response was classic: "Hey, if you just take time to look for the best in people, you'll find it in no time at all."

I met her during the first round of the ACC women's tournament in the late 1970s. In those days, women's basketball was only a slight cut above intramural sports.

I was the only sportswriter at the game, and there weren't many more fans in the arena that afternoon than sportswriters. There were no cheerleaders, but there must have been 40 missed free throws and just as many turnovers.

State won the game by at least 30 points, and that was only through the grace of Yow. It could have been 60.

At game's end, I waited outside the State locker room to ask the coach a few questions. She was startled to see a reporter of any type, much less someone from The Raleigh Times.

"My goodness!" she said. "Are you really going to do a story on our game?"

After I assured her that a game report on the Wolfpack women was my lone assignment of the day, her only concern was that I interview her players.

It's been a long time, but she said something along these lines:

I'll go get some of them for you to talk to. You wait right here. Don't you dare move. Stay right there. Don't budge. These girls are so dedicated, and they're such wonderful kids, and just one story would mean so much to them, and they've worked so hard for so long, and their families drive all the way to these games, and they all bring school books along all the time, and they make good grades, and we had bus problems getting up here, and it didn't take anything away from their enthusiasm whatsoever, and we'd love for you to come to practice one day and see how much effort they put into it, and there are so many great young gals hoping to see women's basketball survive, and it's such a great opportunity for girls, and ACC is on the front edge, and the men's players come to our games once in a while, and Genia Beasley is from right there in Johnston County.

And on and on and on.

And, of course, all the players wanted only to talk about their precious coach. Yow didn't like that drift and insisted that the story focus on the players.

At long last -- after Yow virtually dictated the story line to me -- I pulled out my trusty Royal portable typewriter, put two pieces of thick copy paper around a carbon sheet and went to work on my first-ever women's basketball game report.

Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, Coach Copy Editor Yow was peeking over my shoulder with stern advice. She warned that the story should be about the players and the women's game.

Beneath the hundreds of chairs in the church building Friday, there was a basketball court. That, she would have liked. It wasn't Coach Yow Court. Or Coach Kay Court. Just a simple basketball court, where young girls years from now will learn to dribble, shoot and discover lessons much more important than a game score.

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