Women’s college basketball lost one of the best, Kay Yow, today (Jan 24, 2009) to cancer at the age of 66. Kay exemplified the ideals of education and college sport throughout her 38-year coaching career. Here is a very abbreviated list of her accomplishments compiled from the NC State Website, an article by ESPN, and my own limited knowledge:
- NC State Head Women’s Basketball Coach 1975-09.
- 737 college game wins during her career.
- She was 680-325 at NC State, only three women’s coaches in DI have coached 1,000 games at one school.
- 20 NCAA Tournament appearances (11 Sweet 16, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Final Four in 1998).
- Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 1987, she coached the 1988 Olympic Team to a Gold Medal.
- In 2002, she was inducted into the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (only the 5th female coach to be inducted).
- She won the ACC tournament in 1980, 1985, 1987 and 1991.
- As recently as 2006-07, she coached the team to a Sweet Sixteen appearance, even after missing 16 games that season due to her illness.
- An honorary Nike Shoe, the Kay Yow Air Huarache.
- Most importantly, a lifetime commitment to mentoring young women during their college years.
Kay Yow began her NC State career a few years after Title IX was signed into law, but before anyone was taking the law seriously. As a coach, she witnessed the gains that could be made towards equality by doing the right things. The following excerpts are from a very well written ESPN article on Kay:
“As Yow once put it, ‘If a person really has a grateful heart, the door can open wide for so many good things to come your way.’ Women like Yow always remembered they were educators first, coaches second — and if that left relatively little time for their personal lives, such was the price of this kind of career happiness. They knew they were pioneers exploring not literal “land” but rather “turf” that traditionally had belonged to men. They knew there were barriers to knock down, but different ways to do that.”
“As she put it, ‘I said a long time ago in my career that if what I’m doing is just about W’s and L’s — wow, how superficial. I give my whole life to that? No, it’s about investing in people.'”
As I reflect on the impact that Kay had on the sport of women’s basketball, college sport overall, and the many student-athletes she helped develop. I can’t help but wonder why it takes a tragedy like her death to grab ESPN headlines for women’s basketball other than the Women’s Championship Game. I’m watching the LSU lose to Xavier while I write this (I have no choice, my fiancé is a die hard Muskie) and the tribute to Kay has been amazing. I wonder how many of those watching around the country had heard of Kay before today?
Media coverage of women’s sports is getting better, but there still needs to be more coverage and the same effort that is put into men’s sports needs be put into women’s. If the women get garbage time slots, second-string announcers, and are ignored on PTI, then obviously ratings will be weak. It is the chicken and egg question. If women were given more attention, sponsorship dollars, and effort, would viewership increase? The higher ratings would result in more sponsorship dollars and the cycle would continue is a positive direction. I am not suggesting that women’s basketball will (or needs to) get the viewership of men’s. But, how can we know what women’s basketball could achieve if we never try?
Come on ESPN….. don’t wait for another tragedy, controversy (i.e. Don Imus and Rutgers), or the Championship game to give the women their fair share of the spotlight.
I encourage people to support the Kay Yow/WBCA Pink Zone initiative. Donations can be made to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund at http://www.JimmyV.org, by calling 1-800-4JimmyV, or by mailing checks to the WBCA with attention Megan Smith at 4646 Lawrenceville Hwy. Lilburn, GA 30047.
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