Play4Kay Game Today Has Special Meaning For Tech Coach Joseph

Feb. 18, 2012

by Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There’s something going on with the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team and its coach, and to say that is significant because year after year for a while now MaChelle Joseph and the Yellow Jackets have pushed the bar higher only to top it 12 months later.

You could just tell in talking to Joseph Saturday morning.

She’s always pushing, of course, but there was something not different but extra in her tone in speaking ahead of today’s “Play4Kay” game in which Tech will wear pink uniforms and ask fans to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness and research.

Breast cancer touches everybody, and if you don’t think it does, you’re not thinking hard enough.

It has touched Joseph’s mother, who will be at the game against Boston College (7-19, 2-11 ACC) at 2 p.m., in the Arena at Gwinnett Center. This speaks to Coach Jo’s extra tone yesterday.

Spend any real time at all near her, and you’ll know quickly that Tech’s coach can be, well, urgent.

Backtrack to the time not so long ago when Marilyn Joseph was diagnosed with breast cancer, and, well, “urgent” becomes cheap filler for the fact that no word has been invented to capture the enormity of certain situations.

Mom wasn’t well, and while Marilyn has had clean scans of late, her diagnosis underlined what already was a razor-sharp awareness in Joseph of breast cancer and it tentacle-like ramifications.

“With your own mother, it pushes this game and this cause up in your face and makes it real,” Coach Jo said. “It’s always been important to me, especially being in the ACC and watching Kay Yow battle it so bravely for such a long time. It’s made it up close and personal.”

About Kay . . .

Having never met former NC State women’s coach Kay Yow, who coached the Wolfpack nearly forever, I knew about her. She steered the 1988 U.S. Women’s Olympic team to a gold medal, and that came after she had been diagnosed in ’87 with breast cancer.

She fought the good fight for long.

The BC came back in 2004, and Yow died of it in ’09.

Breast cancer awareness has blossomed in recent years for the efforts of many great and determined people.

As I write, I’m in Orlando with my wife and two daughters (ages 11, for two more weeks), and waiting for the boss to come back from a conference so we can go across the street to Disney.

Breast cancer has not hit me between the eyes, but I’ve seen its mallet and fear its possibilities.

It has impacted my extended family in more than one case, most recently a couple years ago when my wife’s slightly older cousin — whom Patti grew up with — died of it.

Beverly was as sweet and pleasant a human being as I’ve ever known, tied only in that category by her mother — my wife’s aunt.

Beverly fought and fought, and finally reached a point where another treatment option existed but only to offer a delay of months to what was deemed an inevitability. She passed, and then she passed.

One of Beverly’s twin brothers died a few years earlier of cancer, and her younger sister, Leslie, has battled BC as well.

These are great people, and I write this not because they’re part of my family but because they are selfless folk — the kind of people whom one cannot possibly think deserve anything less than a full life.

The goal here was to mix writing about the Jackets, who’ve won six of their past seven games, including a win one week ago today at North Carolina for only the second time in years, and about breast cancer awareness.

Knowing that attention spans are a tricky deal, I’m going to shorten the bit about the team — which has only lost to teams ranked in the top 15.

Tech (19-7, 9-4 ACC) has seen several role players grow into their jobs. For example, sophomore Dawnn Maye, who has had ball security issues, did not have a turnover in Thursday’s win at Wake Forest and she scored a career-high 23 points as well.

Sophomore Frida Fodgemark, recruited from Sweden to shoot the three-pointer, is now finding more opportunities.

“This has been a really fun team to coach because it’s been a work in progress,” Joseph said. “It’s been fun to watch the players understand their roles. I think it starts to evolve as players understand their place. It’s pretty easy for the go-to players to define their roles.

“[Coaches] spend hours talking about what we can get from players . . . it’s been a challenge to implement roles, and determine how our role players can best help us.”

That strikes me as a transition.

As written earlier, you either know someone who has dealt with or is battling breast cancer now or has in the past — or you’re not thinking hard enough.

Without spouting statistics, I know — unfortunately — that you will again.

This is not about Joseph’ team, or her mother, but rather about all of us, all the world.

My son (who has stayed in Atlanta with his high school baseball team) and his teammates wore pink shoelaces and pink long sleeves under their jerseys for a football game last fall, and even in the NFL there is meaningful acknowledgement of breast cancer and its insidiousness.

This is you, your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your neighbors, your co-workers, or their families. Guaranteed.

“All of us are affected whether male or female, a mother, a cousin, a wife . . . in the impact it has on everybody’s life and in their loved ones,” Joseph said. “I think it’s interesting how sports has played a role in breast cancer awareness.

“If you look across the country . . . it’s not just women’s basketball, and it’s not just women’s sports. It’s high school, college, professional. You look at pro football teams wearing pink hats, and . . . I think it’s great when you see this [awareness] cross gender lines.”

Again, if you think this hasn’t touched you, you’re not thinking hard enough. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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