College Basketball: In funeral video, Yow affirms faith
By Aaron Beard
CARY ó So many people wanted to talk about Kay Yow in the days since her death, to tell stories about her coaching success and the courage she showed in her long fight against cancer.
Yet when the time came for her funeral, which she designed with care, North Carolina State’s Hall of Fame coach decided not to ask a former player or a fellow coach to speak. Instead, she had a message for them.
“And now I say farewell,” Yow said in a video played Friday to mourners gathered at a suburban Raleigh church. “And it’s been a wonderful journey, especially since the time I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior.”
In the 25-minute tape, Yow thanked the supporters who guided her through her fight against breast cancer and recounted with passion her deep Christian faith.
“It has changed my life,” Yow said. “It has changed the life of every person who has accepted him.”
Yow’s message highlighted a moving 90-minute service that drew more than 1,400 people, many of whom arrived early for a public viewing. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, one of dozens of college coaches to attend, called Yow’s taped message “amazing.”
“Obviously I don’t think there was a person in that room that wasn’t touched and probably affected by her words,” Summitt said. “I have never known of a service like this. And it would be just like Kay to be the absolute first.”
Yow noted “it’s actually sort of eerie” to make the video, but said she first felt compelled to tape a message after doctors diagnosed a recurrence of breast cancer in 2004.
“I don’t want you to fret over the fact that I’m not here or question why I’m not here,” Yow said. “Because God knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t make mistakes. … I have now a place in heaven with him.”
Yow won more than 700 games in her career and went on to lead the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team to the gold medal the year after she was first diagnosed with cancer in 1987.
For many, Yow was best known for her unwavering resolve while fighting the disease, which had lingered in the years since its recurrence. She raised awareness and money for research while staying with her team through the debilitating effects of the disease and chemotherapy during an emotional late-season run two seasons ago.
She took a four-game leave in December due to what was described as extremely low energy, then announced shortly after the new year that she would not return this season. She soon entered a hospital for treatment and spent about a week there before she died last weekend. She was 66.
Yow will be buried Saturday in her hometown of Gibsonville.
“Her battle with breast cancer was never about herself,” said Megan Smith, who works with the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer fund in Atlanta, before the funeral. “She was such a courageous and humble person at the same time.”
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma stopped by at the viewing before the funeral, while Summitt, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer and Texas coach Gail Goestenkors ó who coached at Duke for 15 seasons ó attended the memorial service. Coaches from several Atlantic Coast Conference schools also attended, including North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, who was joined by her Blue Devils players.
Others paying respects Friday included former N.C. State football coach Chuck Amato and current coach Tom O’Brien, and N.C. State alumnus and former NFL coach Bill Cowher. N.C. State men’s basketball coach Sidney Lowe also attended with his players, who made the slow walk by Yow’s open casket during the viewing.
Retired professor Janie Brown, former chair of the physical education department at Elon University, remembered speaking to Yow a few years ago for a project on the history of women’s sports. She said Yow spoke about balancing teaching, academic advising and even the little things such as taping her players’ ankles.
“I think that was always her attitude. Whatever the situation, you deal with it. That’s what she’s done,” Brown said. “I’m a good friend, but I’m also a great admirer of what she does. And I think we would hope we could live a life with that kind of influence.”
Friday’s events are part of an emotionally draining week for the players and coaches she left behind at N.C. State. On Monday, the team went to a mall to choose clothes for Yow’s funeral, a task interim coach Stephanie Glance said was easier to do together than individually.
The team returned to practice Tuesday, then attended the campus tribute ceremony at Reynolds Coliseum, home of “Kay Yow Court,” Wednesday night. The next day, the team played its first game since her death, falling to Boston College 62-51.
At each public event, there have been numerous fans wearing pink ó the color of breast cancer awareness ó and eager to share their stories of how Yow inspired them while battling the disease.
Yow spent 38 seasons as a coach, 34 with N.C. State. She won four ACC tournament championships, earned 20 NCAA tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998.
She also served on the board of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which was founded by ESPN and her friend and colleague, former N.C. State men’s coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.
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