Kay Yow (1942 - 2009)

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009 by Travis Cody in

Kay Yow, coach of the North Carolina State women's basketball program since 1975, died yesterday after more than a 20 year battle with breast cancer. She was 66.

This is a terrible kind of symmetry. I first became a fan of NC State watching Jim Valvano coach the men's program in the early 1980s. Valvano got his national championship with one of the all time upsets of Houston in 1983. He died of brain cancer in 1993. A women's national championship eluded Coach Yow, but that does nothing to diminish her legacy. Her impact on young women, and virtually everyone she came in contact with, is and will remain profound.

She was one of only 9 women to win more than 700 games. In 38 seasons, 4 of them at Elon College to begin her career, Coach Yow won 737 games, ranking her 6th among women's coaches. The court at Reynold's Coliseum was renamed Kay Yow Court on 16 Feb 2007, on senior night, and that night the Wolfpack upset then #2 ranked cross town rival North Carolina. I remember watching that game, and it was one of the most emotional two hours I've ever spent watching a sporting event.

Coach Yow was the 5th female coach to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She is also enshrined in the Women's Basketball HOF. She coached the 1981 silver medal US women's team at the World University Games, was an assistant coach on the 1984 gold medal winning Olympic team, coached the 1986 gold medal winning teams at the Goodwill Games and FIBA World Championships, and the gold medal winning Olympic team in 1988.

Coach Yow was a recipient of the Jimmy V ESPY Award for Perseverance. She served on the board of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, and she lived the Foundation's motto of Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up. She continued to coach her team for as long as she could during chemo treatments. She let her very difficult and painful fight against the disease be a public one. She encouraged other cancer patients, and worked tirelessly to promote the importance of cancer research. Her name is attached to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer fund, launched by the V Foundation and sponsored in part by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association to raise specific awareness for breast cancer research.

She was first diagnosed in 1987. The cancer returned in 2004 and again in 2007. She was forced to miss 16 games during 2007 to focus on her treatments. The virulence of the disease finally overwhelmed her earlier this month, and Coach Yow announced that she was too sick to continue as head coach.

So many women battle against breast cancer in relative obscurity. Coach Yow is no more heroic than they. But her public battle against the disease helped to bring increased awareness. I know so many people who have been touched by cancer in some way. Please take a moment and donate to cancer research today, either in the name of someone you know or in your own name.

Or just do it because it's the right thing to do.

Sandra Kay Yow (14 March 1942 – 24 January 2009)


  1. Kay Yow is one of my personal heroes. I have watched and admired her courage as well as her passion for the game of basketball. She did exemplify the very essence of a "never give up" attitude. I remember her return to the court shortly after the first diagnosis. The publicity of her ordeal was astounding in my corner of the world. We looked to her (and Valvano for that matter) as beacons of hope and inspiration as did the rest of the world.

    Kay Yow was, and is, revered and loved. I, for one, will miss her.

    Thank you for posting this.

  1. Akelamalu says:

    I've never heard of Kay Yow but she sounds like a remarkable woman. Cancer is such a terrible disease and, as you say, there are millions of women (and men) fighting it. Hopefully they are given some comfort to know there are people like Kay who do this in public which enables people to talk about it.

    God bless her.

  1. Kanani says:

    I've worked with many breast cancer patients and I know what a terrific struggle it is.
    Kay Yow did so much to raise not only the self esteem of the women she coached, but everywhere. What a great gift she gave to others. She had a great life!

  1. Jamie says:

    She was a remarkable woman and an inspiration in all the lives she touched. She will be missed. Heroes are rare and wonderful.

  1. JohnH985 says:

    A nice tribute. Cancer is such a terrible sickness, taking so many before their time. She sounds like a wonderful woman and a true inspiration.

  1. She was welcomed home by God who need a coach.

  1. Alice says:

    A nice tribute, Travis. Know Kay is now in a better place, finally set free of the painful body.

  1. Bond says:

    It saddened me to hear this the other day. She inspired all who knew her and thousands of others who jsut knew of her...

  1. When I read that she had gone into the hospital last week, I feared that the end was near.

    What a courageous women she was. How strangely ironic that NC State has been "challenged"/blessed by two wonderful coaches afflicted in similar ways.

    She was an incredible person.

  1. her story is well known in the breast cancer community...she fought so bravely for so long ...she is one of my heroes.

  1. Julie says:

    Your passion for tributes is just so touching Travis. Thanks for sharing about this wonderful lady.

  1. Travis says:

    Mimi: She was so important to so many people. I've enjoyed listening to the remembrances of her during games over the weekend.

    Akelamalu: I can't imagine being that public with something so difficult.

    Kanani: I admire the courage of women who face the harshness of the treatments.

    Jamie: So often she put the comfort of others ahead of her own.

    John: One day maybe people won't have to struggle so hard against cancer.

    Mike: She is at peace.

    Alice: It's tough to see it that way, but you are right.

    V: Yes she did.

    Songbird: I thought this was the last battle when she announced that she wouldn't be able to coach anymore.

    Katherine: She became one of Pam's too.

    Julie: I think it's important to know and to care.