Some very sad news was reported by colleague Mel Greenberg last week about the death of former N.C. State player Linda Page. She was 48 and a former Philadelphia high school star.
It reminded me of a story I wrote about the late Wolfpack coach Kay Yow in 2003, before she went into the Naismith Hall of Fame. It ended with a recounting of a conversation I’d had with Page in the mid-1990s about about Yow’s influence:
From ESPN.com, September 2003:
Ever had laryngitis? Not froggy throat, or hoarseness or cough-every-time-you-talk. Flat-out laryngitis, where you can open your mouth and try to scream and absolutely no noise comes out.
I had it for one day in May 1984. I didn’t really believe you could completely lose your voice _ I thought it only happened on sitcoms, like suddenly being allergic to your brother _ until I woke up, back home for the summer from college, and couldn’t even begin the usual monologue over breakfast/newspaper: “Oh, God, I bet Mondale’s not even going to win Minnesota ….” No words. Nothing.
So years later, I was empathizing while watching Kay Yow coach her North Carolina State team while having laryngitis. She gestured and paced, her eyes got big, her hands clenched. She had a dry-erase board, and she’d scribble messages for her assistants. She was pretty quiet in the post-game interview, too. Har-har-har.
“Coach, what did you think of Chasity Melvin’s performance tonight?” was the question. And Yow would nod vigorously. One of her assistants, if memory serves, provided the sound, saying, “Well, Coach Yow thinks Chasity played very well tonight …”
Truth is, though, I’ve never heard Yow actually scream even when she did have her voice. Yell just a little to be heard over the din of a game, maybe. But scream? I’m not saying it’s never happened, it’s just hard to picture. Yow, with that soft North Carolina lilt, doesn’t have a coach’s voice. She has a “Did you want to check out this book for two weeks?” voice.
And yet she is the consummate coach. Her record, combining her days at Elon and North Carolina State, is 625-268. She will go into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week, along with Larry Brown, Lute Olson, Magic Johnson, the late Drazen Petrovic and the Harlem Globetrotters team. Yet you won’t find a person so successful who makes less of a fuss about herself. She has overcome breast cancer. She has overcome all the changes in her sport that have ended the coaching careers of many of her fellow “pioneers.”
She’s about as square as Sponge Bob, but she still finds ways to relate to kids who listen to music that hurts her ears. Some people knock over barriers with their bulldozer personalities, and good for them. They’re needed. But others, like Yow, do it another way. They’re persistent at chipping the mortar and the blocks that heed progress; even when you think they should be tired, they somehow aren’t.
Yow so often looks serious that you might not know she has a sense of humor, albeit a gentle one. She has been friend and teacher and coach to so many young women.
A favorite Yow story? One of her many stars, Linda Page, once told me about running into Yow by chance in Philadelphia outside a department store in the mid-1990s. Page lived in Philly; Yow was visiting someone in town. Page had scored 2,307 points in her career at N.C. State, from 1982-85. Her college days seemed far in her past, though.
And yet seeing her former coach brought back a rush of everything good that had happened to Page during those four years in Raleigh _ and how much it had shaped the person she now was.
So they stood talking and laughing and remembering, and Page thought how lucky it was that they’d happened to be in the same place at the same time for another day. Then Page realized that Yow _ and all she taught _ had, in fact, been with her all along.