By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009
It wasn't always easy for Debbie and Kay Yow to find time to see each other in person, considering the demanding nature of their respective jobs. But whenever the North Carolina State women's basketball team played at Maryland, Debbie -- in her 15th year as the Terrapins' athletic director -- and Kay -- who spent 34 seasons as the Wolfpack's coach -- would meet up for a mid-morning or early-afternoon coffee.
"We had to develop a system that would work for us," Debbie Yow said Tuesday. "After the game didn't work well because one of us had lost."
The two sisters won't meet today, prior to 13th-ranked Maryland's game against N.C. State. Kay Yow, 66, died Jan. 24 after a 20-year battle with breast cancer. A three-minute video tribute to the Hall of Fame coach will be played during halftime of tonight's game.
Yow's death was felt throughout basketball, and there are daily reminders for both Debbie Yow and the N.C. State program.
"Yes, this is the week after, but it doesn't feel like that," N.C. State interim coach Stephanie Glance said. "I think this is a major kind of life-changing event, and for the people in our program, it definitely will be a daily process that we'll continue to work through. It's kind of undefined, what we're talking about."
The days immediately following Yow's death were difficult. N.C. State was supposed to play at Wake Forest on Monday, Jan. 26; that game was postponed to Feb. 17, and instead the players and coaches spent the day at the mall, buying clothes for Yow's funeral.
The team held practice Tuesday night, attended an on-campus tribute Wednesday and then hosted Boston College, a 62-51 loss, on Thursday night. The public viewing and funeral was Friday in Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, and the burial was Saturday in Gibsonville, about an hour's drive west. On Sunday, the Wolfpack played at Virginia Tech and picked up its first ACC victory, 57-46.
"It's been a very emotional experience," senior guard Shayla Fields said. "I don't think it's going to get any easier. The spotlight is going to be on us to represent Coach Yow, and I just think that it's going to be hard. I feel like us sticking together as a team, our coaching staff being there for us, our fan support . . . that's going to make it easier for one another."
Glance is trying to keep things as normal as possible for the players in terms of practice and game preparation, and there are times she'll remind them of something that Yow taught them or something that Yow said. But finding a balance between working and grieving is not easy, particularly for Glance, who is in her 15th season at N.C. State.
The ACC is particularly competitive this season, with six teams with just one or two losses in league play. The Wolfpack was 8-7 overall when Yow announced that she would be stepping down for the remainder of the season Jan. 6, just before conference play began; the team is 1-5 since, with overtime losses to then-No. 4 Duke and then-No. 2 North Carolina.
"I have a responsibility to be the caretaker of the program and the players. I am humbled by that, I realize what a great responsibility that is," said Glance, who served as interim coach for 16 games during the 2006-07 season when Yow took a health-related leave of absence. "I want to absolutely do my very best at filling that role. But I'm also in the position of, I lost a really good friend."
Glance encourages the players to talk about their emotions, but she also recognizes that people grieve in different ways. "For some players, it's very comforting to be on the court, it makes them feel closer to Coach Yow. But some players, it makes them more emotional," she said.
One thing that the players did agree on, in their first meeting after Yow's death, was that they wanted to wear their specially designed pink uniforms for the remainder of the season. The home uniforms are white with pink trim on the sides, and the road versions are completely pink, with "Yow" written on the back where the player's name would normally go.
"She's always on my mind, especially in the arena of basketball," said Fields, who is the ACC's second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. "I just try to go out and play the game like she'd want me to. I know if she was here, she wouldn't want to be anywhere else. With everything that she was going through, she'd step onto the floor and be as positive as she could be. I try to model her example."
Debbie Yow was touched by the myriad tributes to her sister -- which came from men's teams as well as women's. Maryland Coach Brenda Frese and Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan traveled together to the public viewing, just hours before their teams played each other in Charlottesville. Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen also went.
Nearly 1,400 people attended the funeral, which Kay Yow designed herself; she made a 25-minute video and even chose the caterer. It had elements of a celebration as well as a reunion, Debbie Yow said; one of Debbie's former point guards from when she was coaching at Kentucky in the late 1970s showed up at the funeral unannounced.
But Debbie Yow was not surprised by the outpouring; not only was her sister well liked and well respected, but her long, public battle with cancer was inspirational to those who have been touched by the disease.
"I think she became a representative of all the thousands of individuals who have had cancer or who are fighting cancer," Yow said. "Men who have a wife or a mother or a sister who is fighting the disease, there was a commonality that absolutely drew people to her."
On Monday, Debbie Yow returned to work; she joined Gary Williams at his news conference to address speculation regarding his status as men's basketball coach. Now she is trying to sort through the hundreds of phone messages, e-mails and cards that she received in the past week.
But there's one person she can no longer talk to.
"I still think that I can go to the phone and call her, and she'll answer," Yow said. "It's just too soon for it to truly feel like it's real."