Debbie Yow: Headed home in search of peace

Debbie Yow has been the University of Maryland's athletic director since 1994. She is returning to her home state.
By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010

Debbie Yow is on the other end of the phone in Raleigh, N.C., openly crying in a stadium press box at North Carolina State University, looking down at the football field where she will now spend her fall Saturdays. It is three hours before the public goodbyes to Gary and Ralph and everyone else, three hours before she officially gets off that 16-year ride of spills and thrills in College Park.

"I find myself thinking more about Kay now since she's gone," Maryland's former athletic director said, asking for a moment to compose. "I'm sorry -- this is the female AD you're talkin' to now."

No sense apologizing.

Most men would lose tears if they were returning to their home state, taking a big job where their legendary sister, who died of cancer last year, coached for 34 years.

Kay was the one who played aunt to the nieces and nephews, represented the Yow clan at the baptisms and birthdays, while Debbie was stuck at some Terrapin tournament game somewhere -- Bloomington, Charlottesville, Spokane, beyond, anywhere the soccer or lacrosse or basketball team was fighting to stay alive another afternoon.

She knew the deal when she became the first female athletic director in the ACC and Tobacco Road was no longer home; it became mostly a business trip.

No more.

"There comes a season in your life when it's time to move on, and that season for me is now," she said.

To ignore the accomplishments and longevity would be foolish. She lasted longer -- 16 years -- than the previous five Maryland athletic directors who served before her.

Since 1995, the Terps have won 20 national titles in six sports and who cares if one of them was competitive cheerleading. Bottom line, Yow presided over the most successful period in modern Maryland athletics.

And let's not give short shrift to her gender, either.

Just as when she was 10 years old, when the summer weeds muscled up through the court on Carolina asphalt, and she was called names by the boys who didn't want a girl playing basketball with them, Debbie Yow was a pioneer, a woman playing a man's game.

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