ESPN employees share memories of Kay Yow, reflect on Play 4Kay women’s basketball initiative

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(L-R) ESPN’s Carol Stiff, former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt, Kay Yow (center, seated), former WBCA member Summer McKesson, WBCA Chief Executive Officer Beth Bass, ESPN’s Rosa Gatti, Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. (ESPN)

For the seventh straight year, ESPN will support the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, in partnership with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and The V Foundation for Cancer Research, by airing 12 women’s basketball games over two days, Sunday, Feb. 17, and Monday, Feb. 18, as part of the Play 4Kay initiative.

The fund is in memory of former NC State head coach Kay Yow, who died Jan. 24, 2009, after a long, courageous battle with breast cancer.

Carol Stiff, espnW’s Vice President, Content Program and Integration, and Lindsey Ross, ESPN Associate Manager, Programming, both knew Coach Yow and have played a part in the Play 4Kay initiative since its inception.

What kind of person was Kay Yow and what was your relationship?
Ross: I was extremely fortunate to get to know Coach Yow, although for much too short of a time. I worked with her throughout my years in the Communications Department at the Atlantic Coast Conference office. She was definitely a one-of-a-kind person who everyone felt connected to immediately. I remember her saying that once people learned how to care more about others than themselves, then we would know that we had fully matured. I always felt that every word she said should have had quotation marks around it. That was just it — she constantly lived her life in a way that positively impacted someone else. Ironically, she still does today.

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, ESPN’s Lindsey Ross, The V Foundation’s Nick Valvano.

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, ESPN’s Lindsey Ross, The V Foundation’s Nick Valvano.
(Photo courtesy of Lindsey Ross)

What impact has the Kay Yow Cancer Fund had?
Ross: There are no words to describe the images in my mind of Coach Yow’s funeral, an event that she spoke at herself [via prerecorded video]. There were several dozen former players, competing coaches and people she didn’t even know. People wanted to say thank you to Coach Yow — for the extended hand that she had given, the opportunity for an education or fresh start and the lasting words even up to that day.

She took the time in the last few months to help plan the Fund’s impact for the future. She was able to lay out to her closest friends her directives and goals, which were simple –- to unite coaches across the country in the fight against women’s cancers. For once, they’d all be sitting on the same bench. I am so incredibly honored and thankful that I still have a small role in helping Coach Yow achieve her dreams.

How did ESPN develop its relationship with the Kay Yow Fund? How have you seen it grow since its inception?
Stiff: It was hard to say “no” to Coach Yow. Her mission to connect a nation of coaches, The V Foundation and ESPN in order to find a cure for cancer was so perfectly clear. ESPN is so proud to support the Play 4Kay initiative and to drive awareness to Kay’s legacy and contribution to our world. I feel a great responsibility to “Never Give Up. . . Never Give Up” trying to find a cure for cancer.