Kay was one of the first female athletes to benefit from the passage of Title IX in 1972. Kay, along with many other aspiring female athletes of her generation, created the foundation for a legacy of 50+ years of athletic success by Pana women. Quite simply, Kay loved to compete – no challenge was too great.
Kay was a junior when girls athletics started and was an integral part of every sport she played: tennis, volleyball, badminton, field hockey, track & field, and boys’ golf. Kay was undefeated in tennis singles, and doubles with Trish (Winn) Spinner. The pair would win the regional and advance to the IHSA State Tournament and won a first-round match. During her senior year, the volleyball team won the regional tournament and finished with a 13-3 record. Coach Carol Schramm stated, “Kay sported a powerful serve along with the talent of setting the ball up well to her teammates. It was an overhand, line-drive type of service that simply dazzled opposing players.”
Yes, Kay played on the boys’ golf team. As a trailblazer and valuable contributor to the team, she earned the respect of her fellow teammates and competitors with a record of 15-5-3. “Kay was a good golfer on a good team – their dual record of 19-4 attests to that. Her score of 82 in the Mid-State Conference Meet helped the team garner third place” wrote Steve Fox from the Decatur newspaper.
Kay attended Eastern Illinois University, where she played tennis and badminton with her high school teammate Mary (Stupek) Cothern. She only played one year of tennis and four years of badminton. In 1977, Kay lost to eventual state singles champion Stupek, and then teamed up with her to win the state doubles championship. EIU finished second to UCLA in the IAIAW national meet that year. In 1979, Kay repeated as state doubles champion with a new partner.
Kay also played 2nd base and shortstop for the Dutch Mill Windettes softball team in the 1970’s. She competed in both women’s and men’s racquet ball tournaments and was known for her “kill” shot and fierce competitiveness in the 1980’s. During the 1990’s, Kay was the captain of many 4.5 level tennis teams in the U.S.T.A. leagues. After success at the regionals and sectionals, they qualified for the national tournament five times – competing in Orlando, Tucson, and San Diego. In addition to tennis, Kay was an avid and accomplished golfer, biker, and hiker.
In addition to being a great athlete, Kay was also a great student. Kay was an Illinois State Scholar, member of the National Honor Society, and valedictorian of the Class of 1975. She got both her B.A. and M.A. degrees at EIU in Mathematics. Kay taught math and computer programming for over 30 years in Illinois and Arizona, beginning the computer science program at her first school in Decatur.
Kay’s biggest challenge of her life began in 2013 when she was diagnosed with ALS. She lived with the progressive, terminal disease for six years. She had an unbelievable strength and determination to live a rewarding, inspiring life – even as the disease caused her to become paralyzed, unable to speak or breath on her own – reminding everyone daily of the incredible athlete and person she was from the very beginning. Kay devoted herself to advocacy, raising money for the ALS Association, participating in Boston’s ALS Therapy Developmental Institute’s research study, and shared her journey through Facebook posts on the Kay’s Shining Stars page. Kay shared her unique perspective on life with ALS with honesty, humor, and grace, helping others to understand this devastating disease and to get through difficult times in their own lives.