Yow-isms. Not a bad way to be remembered

Published 9:40 am Monday, February 26, 2018

Something happens every February I hope people don’t forget about. No, not Presidents Day, Groundhog, Valentine’s, or even Black History Month.

It’s Play4Kay…as in the late N.C. State basketball coach, Kay Yow.

Between her and Coach V (the late Jim Valvano), and what their two foundations have done in the fight against cancer; well, it’s enough to turn this Carolina Blue heart of mine blushing red with pride.

For those of you who don’t know, and I hope there are very few of you who don’t, Yow was an ECU grad and former Elon coach who became NC State University’s very first women’s basketball coach in 1975 and she won more than 700 games prowling the Wolfpack sideline over the next 34 years; enough to earn an Olympic Gold Medal as a coach, and a spot in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, faced three battles with the disease, even winning a Jimmy V ESPY award for Perseverance in 2005. Sadly, she passed away in 2009 at the way-too-young age of 66.

Prior to her death, Yow had a vision of uniting a nation of players, coaches, and an entire basketball community to make a difference, which is how the Kay Yow Cancer Fund was born after teaming up with the V Foundation for Cancer Research. It’s a charitable organization committed to finding an answer in the fight for all women’s cancers through raising money and assisting those who are underserved.

The Play4Kay initiative started out as a pink-wearing phenomenon in 2004-05 and involves women’s college basketball teams holding Play4Kay games every February with all money raised then donated to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Locally, Chowan University held theirs just last Wednesday at the Helms Center when the Hawks hosted Lincoln University.

I met Yow on various occasions when I was a sportscaster back in Wilmington some years ago, and we’d talk – or interview – when she dropped into the Port City. Usually she came for vacations at the beach or on recruiting trips, but also when her sister, Susan, was installed as UNC-Wilmington’s women’s hoop coach in 1993.

“Got a quote for me,” I’d sometimes holler. Her Wolfpack players said she could rival men’s basketball icon John Wooden in dishing out a few diamonds of wisdom ever so often.

In today’s Twitter-verse where hashtags and labels don’t hang around long, Yow’s words of wisdom — affectionately referred to by those who knew her best as ‘Yowisms’ — have left a lasting impression on everyone with the joy of having known and conversed with her, and one of her greatest legacies is how Yow’s words continue to impact her friends and former players.

She never gave out any originals for me, but some of her best always come to mind around this time of year. Prowling the internet, here are some of her best ones:

“When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.”

“Don’t wallow in self-pity or you’ll drown. You have to swish your feet and get out.”

“A kite always rises against the wind.”

“Your attitude determines your altitude, and attitude is completely a choice.”

“People don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

“I will. Not, I’ll try.”

Yow’s impact on the court pales in comparison to what she accomplished off it. She mentored generations of women to succeed and be leaders in the game of life.

She didn’t just spawn a movement for breast cancer awareness and treatment, she did it leaving behind a legacy of grace and dignity in the face of a cruel disease. And her memory will forever live on in the lives of all she impacted.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.