For the last six years, the women's basketball team has hosted Play 4Kay, an event for cancer research fundraising. But this year will be different.
Columbia head coach Stephanie Glance—who has worked with her fair share of high-profile coaches—had a special relationship with former North Carolina State head coach Kay Yow, after whom the event is named.
“I was fortunate enough to work with her for 15 years and every day she truly set an example by how she handled adversity and how she handled obstacles,” Glance said. “She was the most consistent person I've ever known. She was never up one day and down the next.”
The Lions' first-year head coach also pointed to Yow's willingness to reach out as another quality that made her stand out.
“She was about people. If she ever met you on the street, she would take the time to stop and talk to you and by the time you walked away, she would have said someting that is very memorable,” Glance said. “She had that kind of impact on people.”
Glance's relationship with Yow—who died in 2009 after losing a battle with breast cancer—extended even beyond their time as colleagues in Raleigh, N.C.
“I grew up in the state of North Carolina, and when I was 13, I went to coach Yow's basketball camp, and continued for three years from middle school into high school,” Glance said. “She was an icon on the national level.”
Yow spent 34 years as the head coach at NC State, leading the Wolfpack to 20 NCAA Tournament appearances during that stretch. She also coached the 1988 Olympic team to a gold medal, and with 737 career wins, she is one of seven women's coaches in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Her impact off the court was no less significant, and through the cancer research fund that she established in 2007 her legacy continues to touch people outside the world of basketball. The women's basketball team will honor that legacy this Saturday in Levien when it hosts Play 4Kay Night. The event's goal is to raise money and awareness for the Kay Yow cancer fund.
Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. After she beat it the first time around, the cancer came back in 2004, and three years later Yow created the research fund.
“Coach Yow wanted to be able to assist the underserved and bring everyone together for a common cause,” Sue Donahoe, the executive director of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, said.
This year will be the Lions' seventh time participating in Play 4Kay, and since the 2007-08 season they have raised over $26,000. Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy said she hopes that number can keep rising.
“This is something we will support on an annual basis,” Murphy said. “Breast cancer touches everyone. Whether it is you or your mother or your aunt or your cousin or your friend or your wife or your partner, cancer touches everyone in some form.”
Play 4Kay has expanded beyond the world of NCAA women's basketball to even middle schools and men's sports.
“I think the reason Play 4Kay is so successful is because Kay was such a treasured member of the women's basketball community,” Donahoe said. “We have all these coaches across the country who want to give back to Kay because of what she meant to them.”
Many teams in the national spotlight have recently sported pink jerseys in support of the cause. Just last year, the University of Oregon's football team participated in Play 4Kay, raising $220,000.
This Saturday, the Lions will take to the court—just like any other night, looking to come away with a win—but for Glance, a chance to honor her mentor will make the game that much more special.
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