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Yow's drive forged in childhood

Posted January 30, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Kay Yow grew up in the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont, the oldest child of a a factory worker and a beautician. Both of her parents played basketball in high school, and they passed their love of the game – and all sports – onto their children.

Hilton and Lib Yow put up a basketball goal behind their small frame house for the children to practice and play. Games became neighborhood events.

Gibsonville hangs sign in honor of Yow Gibsonville remembers Yow

"We played football out in the middle of the street with all the boys because our dads didn't have any boys, except Kay's little brother, so they let us be tomboys," said Lethe Yow-Walters, Kay Yow's cousin.

Walters said she and Yow were inseparable growing up – they lived four houses apart – and she always knew when Yow was up for a game.

"I would hear her coming up the road – bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce," she said, imitating the sound of a basketball being dribbled on the pavement.

Yow was intensely competitive throughout childhood, her relatives said, and the intensity went beyond basketball.

"They would play with the guys – pick-up games. You watch out (because) they'd blow by you and score," said Deleno Flynn, another cousin.

"She's just the kid that would never let me win more games at ping-pong," Walters said.

At Gibsonville High School, Yow started on the girls basketball team as a freshman and was team captain by her senior year. She once scored 52 points in a game.

"She was a forward, and she had a great shot. We would go out and play horse together, and I hate to admit it (but) she did beat me quite a few times," said Buzz Griggs, a classmate of Yow's from first grade through high school.

"She was athletic (and) intelligent, and she was cute. She was pretty," Griggs said.

Yow returned the compliment in Griggs' sophomore yearbook, signing it, "To a cute boy who will go far in sports."

"(It was) not as far as she did, of course," he said.

Yow went on to become a Hall of Fame basketball coach at North Carolina State University, piling up 729 victories and an Olympic gold medal during a 38-year career.

She also inspired thousands by leading her teams despite battling breast cancer for more than 20 years. The disease finally won out last week, when Yow died at the age of 66.

"I quit praying for a cure. I started praying for mercy because she was in so much pain," Flynn said. "We knew she was going when we saw her last (week)."

Gibsonville lowered all flags to half-staff in honor of Yow, who was to be buried in her hometown. Mayor Leonard Williams declared Saturday Kay Yow Remembrance Day in the town.

"She's not suffering," Griggs said, choking back tears. "We were touched (by her life and her death) – everybody, the whole town."

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