Monday, February 2, 2009

Yow's Death Stirs Memories of Wittenberg Basketball Coach

The following story is reprinted from Wittenberg's athletic site, and is also featured on

Late Legendary Mentors Inspire Wittenberg Women's Basketball Team To Activism For Cancer Awareness

Written by: Ryan Maurer

Springfield, Ohio — It may have happened more than 19 months ago, but the passing of Wittenberg women's basketball coach Pam Evans Smith is still fresh in the minds of many of the coaches and student-athletes who continue to don the Red & White. For Head Coach Sarah Jurewicz, Wittenberg class of 1998, the memories came flooding back Saturday morning when she learned of the passing of North Carolina State University Head Coach Kay Yow.

Like Smith, Yow was a tremendously successful college women's basketball coach who dealt with the scourge of cancer for many years before finally succumbing to the disease. The two were kindred spirits in many ways – between them they won more than 1,100 college basketball games and more than two dozen conference championships, much of the time while suffering from an almost identical form of cancer.

Members of the women's basketball coaching fraternity for years, they naturally became distant friends, although it wasn't until Yow was recognized at an Athletes In Action event called Night of Champions in Xenia, Ohio, in May 2006 that they sat down face-to-face to discuss their shared experiences. After Smith's death a little more than a year later, Jurewicz was asked to speak at the Kay Yow Breast Cancer Fund roll-out event at the April 2008 Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) national convention. Afterward, Jurewicz and Yow shared a conversation that still means a great deal to the young Wittenberg coach.

Just hours after she learned of Yow's death, Jurewicz guided her Tigers to a most unlikely of victories - a dramatic 73-72 home win over North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) rival Ohio Wesleyan. After Wittenberg rallied from a double-digit first half deficit to win the game on a last-second shot from Katherine Hueter, class of 2011 from Columbus, Ohio, Jurewicz couldn't help but think that perhaps more than one guardian angel was looking out for her team.

"There was a confidence in the team on Saturday that I felt was infused by something bigger than the players themselves," said Jurewicz, Wittenberg's all-time leading scorer, who replaced Smith, a 1982 Wittenberg graduate and the university's women's basketball head coach for 21 years before passing away in June 2007. "In the locker room following the game, I told the team that it was very apropos that they achieved this victory today in such a courageous way – in a way that this program has seen modeled by Coach Smith."

A typically civic-minded Wittenberg graduate, Jurewicz would probably faithfully participate in WBCA breast cancer awareness programs even without her close personal relationship with Smith or her cherished opportunities to meet Yow. She has become more than a bystander, however – she is a full-fledged cancer awareness advocate, not only organizing but actively promoting events like Pink Zone, scheduled for the Tigers' home game against the College of Wooster at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14.

"Both Coach Smith and Coach Yow would love to know that the basketball community is rallying around such an enormously important cause," said Jurewicz, a native of Shakopee, Minn. "Both women, being unbelievable pillars of strength within their respective communities, would be proud to know that we will continue to celebrate their lives by trying to raise awareness and make others' lives better."

Pink Zone, a program started in 2007 under the name Think Pink, is the WBCA's "global, unified assist in raising breast cancer awareness on the court, across campuses, in communities and beyond." More than 1,000 colleges and high schools participated in the program during the 2007-08 basketball season, including Wittenberg, which recognized breast cancer survivors during a moving halftime tribute ceremony.

The event will annually pay tribute to Smith, for whom the arena in the university's HPER Center was named on Feb. 2, 2008, as all gate receipts from each year's Pink Zone game are donated to Wittenberg's Pam Evans Smith Memorial Fund. Created one month after the women's basketball coach with the most wins and highest winning percentage in NCAC history passed away, the fund now has more than $75,000 to provide scholarships to deserving female senior students who demonstrate leadership and academic abilities.

Again this year, T-shirts will be sold throughout the event, and a breast cancer awareness information table will offer literature. Wittenberg's Pink Zone event will also coincide this year with Take a Kid to the Game Day, a new initiative by the university's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

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