She was two years out of graduate school and just beginning to carve out a career as women’s basketball coach and athletics coordinator at tiny Elon College in North Carolina when the groundbreaking piece of legislation known as Title IX was passed in 1972. But to pioneers like Yow, just as important as the promise of equal opportunity was the sense of responsibility women owed one another in developing a game of their own.
Some argued in favor of following the model long provided by men, focusing on competition, skill development and winning at all costs, the faster the better. Others argued for taking the high road, stressing cooperation, character-building and slow growth.
Both by example and through the force of her personality, during her long tenure on the bench at North Carolina State and her long fight against cancer, Yow proved over and over there was a middle ground. Few coaches won more and none, arguably, exhibited more grace doing it.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who was a great friend as well as a great rival, recalled being only 32 and in need of some experienced help when she was named coach of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
“When I decided who my No. 1 one assistant would be, I knew that I had to choose someone who would be loyal, who knew the game, someone I could trust and someone with great wisdom. When it came time to make that decision, I picked Kay Yow.
“Kay had great wisdom. She had a special way of telling you things that you really didn’t want to hear but needed to,” Summitt said. “Kay was not a ’yes’ woman.”
Summit had chosen two Lady Vols, Lea Henry and Cindy Noble, for the 1984 team and she rode them mercilessly in practice to let the rest of the players know that she meant business. One day after practice, Yow walked over and quietly asked Summitt “how much more do you think they can possibly do?”
“I remember shaking my head and saying, ’Good point,”’ Summitt said. “And I backed off both of them. She was right. She made me a better coach just in subtle ways, in things she’d say to me.”
It’s no coincidence that as the women’s college season is just beginning to hit its stride, one of the stories still generating headlines has to do with one Texas high school girls’ team notching a 100-0 win on an opponent.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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