Coach Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. She passed away in 2009, after a 22-year, on-again, off-again battle with the disease. Coach Yow fought that battle in the public arena. Her hope was to inspire others to make a difference in a fight that impacts each and every one of us.
Sandra Kay Yow was born March 14, 1942, in Gibsonville, North Carolina. Her love of basketball started at age 7, and her dedication to the game took her all the way to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. As head coach of the North Carolina State University women’s basketball team and past president and founding member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), her voice became a galvanizing force within the sport of women’s basketball.
In her 38 years as a college head coach, Coach Yow was one of only six Division I women’s basketball head coaches to achieve 700 career victories. She guided her squads to 20 of 27 NCAA Tournaments, 11 trips to the Sweet 16, and a trip to the Elite Eight and the Final Four in 1998. Yow was part of an elite group of nine Olympic coaches chosen to lead USA Basketball in the pursuit of Olympic gold. Additionally, Yow became only the third women’s basketball coach in NCAA Division I history to coach 1,000 games with one program.
The 2006-2007 season, her 32nd with the Wolfpack, may have been the most tumultuous and most rewarding. Four games into the season, Yow was forced to take a leave of absence due to the progression of her breast cancer. In all, Yow missed 16 games before making a triumphant return to the bench for a Wolfpack win over longtime rival Virginia on Jan. 26, 2007. The team fed off the emotion that Yow returned with and won 10 of their next 11 games, which included her 700th career victory and a win over No. 2 North Carolina. On Senior Night, the Reynolds Coliseum court was christened the “Kay Yow Court.” Not to be outdone, two weeks later the Wolfpack downed the then unbeaten and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament. With fans rooting for NC State from across the country, the club earned its 11th trip to the Sweet 16.
Coach Yow was honored with the inaugural Jimmy V ESPY for Perseverance at the 2007 ESPY Awards. Yow was named national Coach of the Year eight times.She is a member of numerous halls of fame and the recipient of many accolades, some of which include:
The Kay Yow Cancer Fund was officially founded on Dec. 3, 2007, fulfilling Yow’s vision to support advanced research, extend the quality of life for those battling cancer, and provide hope.
“I have to go through it. I accept that, and I’m not panicked about it because the Lord is in control. But it just would be so saddening if I had to go through it and I couldn’t help people. But then I see I’m helping others in a greater way than I ever have. That’s the amazing thing, you know?”
- Kay Yow, in a 2007 interview
Following her passing in 2009, Nike took out the following full page ad in the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper The News and Observer.
Look what you did, Sandra Kay Yow. Look what you did. You know, you could’ve been a librarian like you started out to be, maybe the greatest librarian with the highest on-time return rate of any librarian with a 38-year tenure ever. You know that? What happened to teaching English, Coach? By now you could’ve taught thousands of students to write and speak with your gentle Southern drawl. What happened to all of that, Coach Yow? Instead, young women from North Carolina to Bucharest to Moscow to Mexico to Caracas to Taipei to Brazil to Seoul to L.A. think they can do anything in basketball or otherwise—because of you. What have you done? Coach Yow, you forsook all others and took the young women of North Carolina State as your surrogate children for 34 years. What you taught them and us can’t be placed in any category as simple as English or basketball. You gave us so much more. You gave us you. You battled with something tough, Coach. We know it. And you battled it like a dignified superhero with the ability to take decades of pain and fighting and turn them into the strength and power other people need. Like any hero, you put the needs of others before our own. You did it with a smile, you did it with your hands on your hips, you did it with your red coach’s cape flapping in the wind.
"You’re a wonderful and extraordinary lady, Sandra Kay Yow. And when we say wonderful, we mean wow. And when we say extraordinary, we mean extra ordinary. And when we think of those pink ribbons, we think they should be like a blanket that covers everyone and shields us and reminds us all to be wonderful, extraordinary, dignified, powerful, strength-giving heroes just like you."READ THE FULL COMMEMORATION > Hide
Throughout her life and coaching career, Yow practiced what she preached:
“When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.”