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Secrets of the Yow Sisterhood

For months at a time, Debbie Yow refused to speak to her older sister.

That’s how upset the 15-year-old Gibsonville High School guard was that her own sister, Allen Jay High School head coach Kay Yow, instructed her players to double-team Debbie every time Gibsonville had the ball, keeping the star guard in check three consecutive years. But Kay Yow wanted to win just as much as her little sister did.

“I was pretty competitive,” Debbie Yow said Friday morning, just before she was introduced as NC State’s athletics director. “But I didn’t think she would double-team me. I didn’t talk to her for months every time we lost.”

Kay Yow’s coaching beat her little sister’s playing three consecutive years, causing a little family drama. Something similar happened a few years later when Kay Yow moved to Gibsonville, where the star player was the youngest Yow sister, Susan. One afternoon at practice, Kay kicked Susan out of the gym, then went over to their parents’ house the next day to coax her back on the team–as long as she was willing to obey the coach’s instructions.

A few years later, Debbie Yow spent one season as the senior captain at Elon, where Kay was the head coach. But she was benched midway through the season in favor of a more talented freshman–Susan Yow. Kay’s first season, 1974-75, was Susan Yow’s final year as a player.

The only time Kay and Debbie ever faced each other as head coaches was on March 5, 1980, in a second-round game in the AIAW Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum. The Wolfpack won, 71-63, but the situation was so traumatic for the family, the sisters chose never to play each other again.

Debbie Yow has always looked at those moments, as difficult as they were for her personally, as great learning experiences during her own time as a head basketball coach and an athletics administrator. She remembered them fondly Friday, as she was introduced as NC State’s athletics director.

And so did Susan, who arrived just before Friday’s press conference to see her older sister introduced.

“It’s a great day to be a Wolfpacker,” Susan Yow said.

Family Tradition

The younger sisters learned a lot from the late Kay Yow, who died of cancer on Jan. 24, 2009, during her 34th season as NC State’s women’s basketball coach. Both followed in her footsteps into coaching, Debbie at Kentucky and Susan at East Tennessee State. Debbie also coached at Oral Roberts and Florida before she made the transition to athletics administration. She spent five years at Saint Louis University, before becoming the ACC’s first female athletics director in 1994.

And now, as Deborah A. Yow takes over the athletics program where Kay won 737 games in 34 years as head coach, she is excited about the opportunity to return to her home state after 15 years as the athletics director at Maryland. She’ll think often of her older sister, who she always looked up to.

“In all families, the older children set the standards,” Debbie once told the Greensboro Record. “Kay was a straight-A student. She went to East Carolina. So did I. I never even visited the school, but I wanted to go there because Kay went.

“She was successful in athletics, too. I used to go watch her play as I was growing up. I wanted to do what made my family happy and that made my parents proud.”

Debbie has made her mark as an administrator. Maryland won 20 national titles during her 16 years there, including the 2002 NCAA men’s basketball championship. She inherited a program that was deeply in debt and turned its finances around.

Over the years, she has won the respect of many of college athletics most prominent administrators.

“Debbie Yow is a proven athletic director at the highest level, and a true professional,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

Her hiring met with approval from those familiar with the program and familiar with her.

“I’ve known Debbie a long time as a basketball coach, teacher and administrator, and I have watched her work herself into a position as one of the most respected athletic directors in the country, barring gender,” said former NC State player Debbie Antonelli, now a college basketball television commentator. “She is someone who really cares about student-athletes, and has always done so, and I think the student-athletes at NC State should feel very good about her as someone who has vision, who has experience dealing with helping student-athletes become the best they can be and the ability to put together a staff and an administration that she will help develop through solid leadership and direction.

“As a former NC State student-athlete, I want to see my university continue to thrive, and I think Debbie is just the person to help us do that.”