N.C. State grieves
Wolfpack come to grips with Yow’s death
RALEIGH, N.C. – Kay Yow sometimes said that basketball offered an escape from her long fight against cancer.
Now Yow is gone, and the players and coaches she left behind at North Carolina State don’t know if they can find a similar solace in the sport they love.
“We have no idea, do we?” interim coach Stephanie Glance said Tuesday as she put her arms around senior Shayla Fields and sophomore Tia Bell. “We’re going to sort of walk through this, moment by moment and day by day, as best we can as a group of people who find ourselves in a very difficult situation.
“But we’re going to stick together, and I know that would be her greatest expectation.”
The Wolfpack players are taking the first steps in their grieving process following the Hall of Fame coach’s death Saturday. Glance, Fields and Bell held a news conference to make their first public comments since Yow’s death, followed by the team’s return to practice – its first on-court activity since a loss at Miami last Thursday.
N.C. State has played games and held practices without Yow before when she had to step away to focus on her health in past years, but everyone was always secure in the thought that it was likely temporary.
Now everything has changed for the program Yow led for more than three decades. Instead, the Wolfpack players and Glance, an assistant to Yow for 15 years, can only cling to memories as they try to move forward.
“I feel so fortunate to have been around coach Yow,” Fields said. “To be around her day in and day out and listen to the stories she had to tell, it’s just a life experience that I wouldn’t take back for anything.”
It will certainly be an emotional week for the Wolfpack (8-11, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). It began with the team going to an area mall Monday to pick out clothing for Yow’s funeral, a trip that Glance said probably was easier for the players to do together than alone.
Today, the university is holding a tribute to Yow at Reynolds Coliseum.
On Thursday, the Wolfpack play their first game since her death against Boston College.
On Friday comes Yow’s funeral, followed by her burial the next day in her hometown of Gibsonville.
To listen to Glance, memories of the players’ last visit with Yow will linger for a long time. The coaching staff had visited Yow often in the hospital – she was admitted the week before her death – and wanted to prepare the players for seeing her frail, weakened and bedridden.
Instead, when the players arrived with a custom-made teddy bear as a gift, Yow was sitting in a chair, alert and eager for the visit filled with jokes, smiles and tears.
“The room was full of energy,” Bell said. “I told some of my teammates the other day she looked full of life. It was her. It was Coach Yow, the normal Coach Yow.”
Glance called it Yow’s “last gift to the team.”
“She had to have mustered up every bit of energy she had left,” she said.
In recent days, Glance said the team has received a constant stream of well-wishes and condolences from coaches and fans across the country, including from cancer survivors who have been inspired by Yow’s decades-long fight. She even joked that she can hardly keep her BlackBerry updated and that there would probably be about 50 messages waiting for her after the news conference.
In addition, a large group of Yow’s former players began an e-mailing list that has become a support group all its own.
It’s all further proof, Glance figures, of how special her mentor was to so many people.
“We talked with the team that, as sad as we feel, we would not trade our spots with anybody,” she said. “The sadness we feel right now, it’s all worth it because of the rewards that we’ve gotten by knowing coach Yow, and being impacted by her far outweighs the sadness. What she has left with us will be with us forever, for the rest of our lives.”
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