"Play For Kay"
Faith Mimnaugh’s first reaction to hearing “70 percent” was hopeful.
“That’s not a bad free-throw percentage, we’ve got a shot here,” Mimnaugh remembers thinking after her mentor Kay Yow said, “There’s hope.”
In 1993, during what would be her final year as an assistant coach under North Carolina State’s coach Yow, the Loyola-Chicago graduate received news that her mother had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Before panic and fear could ruminate, Mimnaugh found strength in her mentor who had battled cancer with poise and dignity for years.
“She never brought [her cancer] up to people, she just fought the fight.
Who better to ask than Kay Yow who knows everything about cancer? How to handle it, what to look for, all of those things. Kay was so gracious in helping me research.”
A few short months after hearing the diagnosis, Faith lost her mother to the fight.
“Both battled so bravely and made a difference,” said Mimnaugh.
Yow made a difference in Mimnaugh’s career, taking her under her wing from the moment she accepted the graduate assistant position.
When Faith joined the NC State family in 1989, she had no previous coaching experience that would rival her time with the Wolfpack.
“When I played I was all instinctual so we didn’t have any plays to run. They just gave me the ball and I found people,” said Mimnaugh.
Under Yow, Mimnaugh learned how to coach the game and had the opportunity to be a part of an ACC Championship and trips to the NCAA Tournament.
“I got to be a small part of the cog of NC State women’s basketball.”
“[Yow] was one of the pioneers in getting us on TV and creating a stage for women’s basketball,” said Mimnaugh of her mentor. “I think women’s basketball owes her a great debt. And now, especially women fighting cancer, not just women, we owe her a great debt.”
Mimnaugh says her experiences on the floor with Yow pale in comparison to the lessons Yow imparted off of the court.
Kay would tell her players and staff to give a “special hello” to anyone they’d come across in their daily routines and kitsch phrases rolled off her tongue in her deep, endearing southern accent.
“Turn lemons into lemonade,” she’d say.
Despite battling a crippling disease, Kay found the meaning and the significance in each new day.
After her first diagnosis, Kay started reciting a prayer in the team huddles and shared her unwavering faith with her players.
“Whether they shared her faith or not,” said Mimnaugh, “they respected her place and understood that her faith came first in everything, and it was her faith I think that propelled NC State. They’ve had such a great program though the years, but it was behind that lady.
It really was her specialness that made NC State an incredible and memorable opportunity for me.”
Kay’s guidance propelled Mimnaugh into her coaching career and she is now the winningest coach in Cal Poly history.
Coach Mimnaugh entered her 17th season at the helm with the Mustangs earlier this year after winning back-to-back regular season championships and leading the Mustangs to the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
“[Kay would] be proud that I’m true to my faith and that I do things the right way. That I don’t cut corners,” said Mimnaugh.
“There are a lot of reasons that you move from walking and falling and falling and falling and eventually into running. You have to go through those steps.”
Cal Poly and the basketball community honor Kay this month with “Play for Kay” and “Think Pink” games throughout February.
Quietly, Mimnaugh will be honoring her mother as well.
When Faith heard 70 percent those many years ago, she was hopeful.
Today, she is hopeful we’ll find a cure.