Georgia Tech inspired for annual Play4Kay game against NC State
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
In every season there are big games, then there are BIG games.
Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion a BIG game for Georgia Tech women’s basketball. It’s big for women everywhere.
Sure, the Yellow Jackets (14-9, 3-7) host No. 17 NC State (17-6, 7-3) in a key game for positioning and momentum heading into the final weeks of the regular season (tip-off is at 7 p.m. — the first 500 fans will receive a free Tech Tough pink t-shirt and pink rally towels are available). But the ramifications of Thursday night go far beyond wins and losses and the ACC standings.
Thursday night is Georgia Tech’s annual Play4Kay Game, a night dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness and remembering the legacy of former NC State Coach Kay Yow. The Jackets will show their support by wearing pink jerseys, shorts, shoes, wrist- and headbands.
The Play4Kay Game is in its ninth year and has always been important to Yellow Jackets head coach MaChelle Joseph. It’s come to mean a lot more as her mother is a cancer survivor of five years. She’s made sure her players share her enthusiasm.
“This game has taken on a special meaning to me. I’m proud of the fact that at Georgia Tech we can support the Play4Kay Game and breast cancer research and awareness,” Joseph said. “I think [the players] realize they’re playing for something bigger than themselves. It’s not just about Georgia Tech. It’s not just about our program. It’s not just about the ACC. It’s something bigger than just playing for yourself or for your team. We know that we’re representing and creating awareness for a really important cause.”
“It’s bigger than basketball. That’s what I love about it,” said junior guard Antonia Peresson, who’ll be participating in her third Play4Kay Game. “You’ve got to see the bigger picture. We’re doing it for breast cancer, to help people. A lot of people are fighting so we need to go to war and fight as well because of those people. It’s a big game for us since we play NC State.”
NC State is synonymous with the Play4Kay Game, as Yow coached 34 of her 38 years for the Wolfpack. Initially known as “Think Pink,” the game was initiated during the 2004-05 season, when Yow’s cancer returned after 17 years of being in remission.
The game has become an annual event, not just in Raleigh, but nationwide. In 2007, Yow stepped up the fight, starting the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. She coached as long as she could — the first 15 games of the 2008-09 season. She passed away on Jan. 24, 2009 at age 66.
“I think the thing about Kay that made her unique is what she was on the sidelines was what she was off the floor,” said Joseph, who coached against Yow six times (they split the six meetings). “You didn’t see a lot of difference in how she handled herself on the sidelines than how she handled herself in a meeting with all of her ACC peers. When I think about Kay Yow I think about the class and the professionalism that she brought to our sport.
“When I came into the league 13 years ago as a head coach, she was one of the head coaches that I looked up to as a tremendous role model,” Joseph added. “Not just for what she did on the basketball court but most importantly what she did off of it, how she invested in her student-athletes to make them well-rounded and the best people that they could possibly be. I have a favorite quote that she always said. ‘Don’t wallow in self-pity but swish your feet and get out.’ That pretty much epitomizes who Kay Yow was.”
Joseph considers it an honor for her team to get to play NC State in this year’s Play4Kay Game.
“Obviously, any time we can play against NC State in the Play4Kay Game, that’s a tremendous opportunity for us and for our team,” she said. “It’s important to share the meaning behind the game with our current student-athletes.”
To that end, Joseph will show a video to her team prior to the game, offering insight into Play4Kay and Yow.
Although it’s an emotional day, Play4Kay Game day has become one Peresson looks forward to.
“I feel the emotion of the day,” she said. “We don’t have things like this in Italy. I love this fight that we do it for other people. I really think that it’s something huge for women’s basketball to do something like this.”
Joseph is pleased that days like Play4Kay are becoming a regular part of college sports teams’ schedules — men and women. She credits Yow and NC State for that.
“I think that she has had a tremendous impact on the awareness of breast cancer and the prevention and the awareness of bringing it to sports and athletics, in particular women’s basketball,” Joseph said. “But I do think across the board, at the NC State movement, with the V Foundation (started in tribute to the late NC State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano) and the Play4Kay Game — those were two tremendous coaches, two tremendous leaders in our sport. I think it’s been great to see that not only women’s basketball but men’s basketball has stepped up to the plate and joined in our fight against breast cancer.”
To learn more about the Kay Yow Cancer Fund visit http://kayyow.com/the-mission.