Raleigh, N.C. — The world of women's basketball and the community of breast cancer survivors mourned the death of Kay Yow, the head coach of women's basketball at North Carolina State University, who died of breast cancer Saturday.
Yow passed away at WakeMed in Cary at 6:40 a.m., after battling breast cancer for more than 21 years.
For Stephanie Glance, Yow's assistant coach for 15 years, the loss was immediate and personal.
"I suddenly find myself grasping to retain everything she has ever said and ever taught me," said Glance, who took over as interim head coach when Yow took a leave of absence Jan. 6 to battle a recurrence of cancer. "I know I speak for all former and current players and staff when I say – with a swell of heartfelt emotion – that she will truly be missed each moment of every day."
"She was a blessing to many people because of her strong faith. She faced every opponent, whether on the basketball court or in a hospital room, with dignity and grace. She will be greatly missed," N.C. State Athletic Director Lee Fowler said.
Yow's rivals across the hard court – the women's basketball coaches at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – said Yow's death means much more to them than the loss of a good opponent.
"Kay was a real treasure to me. She was a jewel of a person, an outstanding coach but, more than anything, an outstanding friend," said UNC's Sylvia Hatchell.
"She has been such a warrior in terms of her fight and her struggle, but a part of me is just feeling great for her to be going home to a better place for her now," Duke's Joanne P. McCallie said. "We grieve with (N.C. State), but we also celebrate with them. There's a lot to celebrate there."
Even students who had played against Yow's teams said they had benefited from her example.
“Coach Yow is a pioneer of women’s basketball. She’s done so much for the women’s game," Joy Cheek, a junior and forward at Duke, said. "She had so much love for us, even as opponents, just women who play basketball.”
Cheek said McCallie told them about Yow's death at the end of practice Saturday.
"We were glad that we all sent notes to her after our game at N.C. State, so glad that we were able to leave that with her: how much she has impacted our lives, our well wishes, our admiration and that she is in our prayers," Cheek said.
But, ultimately, fans say, it wasn't Yow's coaching skills but her character and leadership – exhibited during her decades-long battle with breast cancer – that impressed them.
Recurrences of the disease struck Yow in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Through it all, she never quit her team, missing a few games but always returning to coach her girls on the court.
"I've never ... known a woman to share a story, her story, so eloquently under such incredible conditions," McCallie said. "A lot of people are afraid; they're afraid to tell their story. Kay was never afraid. I just know that it had to be a very peaceful thing for her."
"She's given us strength and courage to know that you can fight through things," Cheek said. "She’s given a lot of women confidence and courage to know that they can go on with their lives, that they can still do great things and impact others even with (breast) cancer.”
Yow used her high profile to raise money for cancer research, launching the Jimmy V Classic women's tournament and the Hoops for Hope game at Reynolds Coliseum and founding the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, the first women's initiative undertaken by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
As a freshman, Blair Williams, a basketball player at Athens Drive High School, started an annual Hoops for Hope game on the high school level. Athens Drive and and Apex High women's teams played the second Hoops for Hope game the night before Yow died.
McCallie said that Yow made pink – the universal color for breast cancer awareness – "special."
"For the longest time, pink was something soft and feminine, and suddenly it became this courageous fight that everyone's been united in," McCallie said. "That was one of her many legacies: She made pink more beautiful than pink could ever be."
A public viewing will be held Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary. A funeral will follow at 3 p.m.
Burial will take place Saturday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. at Gibsonville Cemetery in Gibsonville.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund and mailed to:
The V Foundation for Cancer Research
106 Towerview Court
Cary, NC 27513
Cary Alliance Church
4108 Ten Ten Road
Apex, NC 27539
The N.C. State Student Government is urging students plan to wear pink on Monday to remember Yow.
The N.C. State women's game at Wake Forest scheduled for Monday has been postponed. The game will be made up on Feb. 10 in Winston-Salem.