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Pirate Notebook No. 373
Monday, February 2, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Yow made East Carolina proud

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

As both an undergraduate and graduate student at East Carolina, I made daily visits to the English department offices. Almost each trip included a glimpse of Kay Yow’s portrait hanging proudly on the wall.

Before that first viewing of the legendary N.C. State women’s basketball coach, I was completely unaware of her ties to the very department from which I would eventually earn my degrees.

It was a source of great pride to know that someone of her stature took a similar academic path. Yow earned her English degree in 1964 from what was then East Carolina College.

Though I never pulled for N.C. State growing up – nor closely followed women’s hoops – I always respected and admired Yow for her accomplishments and integrity. Even then. She was the gold standard for women’s athletics in this state, a true pioneer who raised the bar for rival programs, and did so without compromising the foundation of her principles.

But to suggest that Yow, a Gibsonville product, was merely a pioneer for her sport would fall short of accurately capturing her widespread impact on athletics in North Carolina. Perhaps only Richard Petty and Everett Case made a bigger demographical imprint on this state’s sports culture.

Where Petty made our state the epicenter for NASCAR, and Case shaped the way in which college athletics were both played and covered, Yow was instrumental in ushering women’s sports out of obscurity and onto the radar.

She, as much as anyone else, is the reason young girls aspire today to play hoops in North Carolina. She also is the reason other in-state schools made bigger investments in their programs in an effort to keep up with the empire Yow was building in Raleigh.

The pinnacle of that empire was a trip to the Final Four and a Gold medal for the U.S. women’s team in Seoul.

The resilience with which Yow fought opponents on the court and on the recruiting trail was even more evident during her battle with cancer. She sparred with one of life’s most fierce opponents for over two decades – who does that? – and did so in the public eye.

It’s an understatement to suggest that courage is a requirement for wrestling with cancer for 20-plus years. But to do it publicly while maintaining the same enthusiastic outlook on life and the persistence to succeed is a testament to the strength that was packaged within Yow’s 66-year old body.

“The most remarkable and most obvious thing about Kay was her incredible passion and enthusiasm for everything and everyone,” ECU Athletics Director Terry Holland said. “She just seemed to have a natural ability to make every situation better by her presence and participation.

“The respect she earned from everyone in the game of basketball is recognized by her installment in the Basketball Hall of Fame which includes every level of the game – international, professional, college, high school, etc.”

Holland’s thoughts are consistent with many others who have spoken about Yow since her death last weekend, affirming words of her solid character that extended throughout every aspect of her life. They were shared by everyone from former President Bill Clinton to Governor Beverly Perdue, and by her chief rivals on the basketball court.

And many of the tributes we’ve heard over the last week weren’t about her mammoth-sized list of professional accomplishments, instead focusing on her impact on others and focus on spirituality. Yow spoke boldly and unapologetically about her Christian faith, which no doubt sustained her during her marathon bout with cancer.

Most impressive is the fact that Yow didn’t merely verbalize her faith. She was a living example of it by outwardly displaying Biblical principles in her daily walk.

Yow left quite a legacy at N.C. State, and there is no mistaking that she bled a bright shade of Wolfpack Red. She did as much as anybody.

But she also is a product of East Carolina, a graduate who all alums should proudly claim.

You will be hard-pressed to find another ECU alumnus who experienced more success at their trade than Yow. Her record supports that.

It would be even more challenging to find someone who was a greater champion in the trials and tribulations of life.

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02/02/2009 02:52:25 AM

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