Posted by: furmanbisher | January 27, 2009

In Memory of a Great Basketball Coach

It is a scene that still plays in my mind. The Goodwill Games, Ted Turner’s peace gesture to the world, were in full sway in Moscow. The US Women’s Team had just closed out the basketball competition with another championship, and there in a room thickly clouded with smoke, the American coach had come to meet the press. In that midst were two natives of small towns in the United States, one the coach and the other a sportswriter, neither fluent in the Russian language.

As the translator rattled off the questions, and then the coach’s replies, I sat mesmerized by the unlikely circumstances. The coach, Kay Yow, was from Gibsonville, a small town near Greensboro, NC. The sportswriter was from Denton, NC. The two towns are about 45 miles apart. Until that press conference in the smoke-filled room—Russians will smoke anything with tobacco in it, and anything else that will burn—the two Americans had never met. And when we did, we both laughed at the coincidence of a girl from Gibsonville and a boy from Denton happening to meet in Moscow.

Kay Yow, by that time, had created a distinguished career at N.C. State. She came from a line of coaching Yows, preceded by Virgil Yow who had elevated High Point College to national status in the game. After a few seasons at Elon College, Kay had moved to N.C. State and there, further expanded her career to such a level that she would be elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame.

The scene shifts now to South Korea two years later. Kay Yow’s status had grown to such a point that she was now coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic basketball team. Once again, she and I came together when the friendly general, Bill Livesay, who had returned to the country where he had once been the Commander-in-Chief of American Forces during the Korean War, had arranged for the two of us to be driven to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), where our troops were eyeball to eyeball with the North Koreans. We were accompanied by an admiral, or perhaps better put, he allowed us to tag along through General Livesay’s connection.

The closer we came to the DMZ, I must admit I began to tense, though there was no apparent reason, other than the fact that actually we did come in full view of North Korean troops, fully armed and scowling down from their posts in the fake headquarters, a false front to a skinny wall. The actual borderline between zones was marked by a line through a small building, and just to say we had crossed into North Korea, both of us stepped across that line.

A tour had been arranged for a group who joined us, including Tom Brokaw, who spoke of his training days at WSB-TV, and Maria Schreiber, who was quite cordial. We were shown the actual neutral zone and were quite thankful to be on our side of it. As you might suspect, there was little talk of basketball, beyond harkening back to the days in our little hometowns. The trip back to Seoul was unusually quiet. We were both digesting what we had just witnessed. Then Kay Yow took her women’s team and won the Olympic Gold for the USA.


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