PEELER: Yow's Final Surprise Victory
BY TIM PEELER
CARY, N.C. This, perhaps, was Kay Yow’s finest victory, her most glorious hour-and-a-half.
Just as the late Everett Case, NC State’s other Naismith Hall of Fame coach, caught many off guard by leaving a portion of his estate to all his former players who graduated from college, Yow had a final surprise for the hundreds of former players, colleagues, family and friends who attended her funeral Friday afternoon at Colonial Baptist Church.
About nine months ago, she sat down with a local memorial service to videotape a 25-minute farewell message that was broadcast as part of the 90-minute service, which was held, fittingly enough, in the church’s gymnasium.
The casket, draped in a family heirloom blanket that was handed down from her grandmother, was open for more than three hours as hundreds filed through, scuffing their dress shoes on the exposed hardwoods. It was a fitting way for a coach who spent more than four decades on the sidelines to be remembered.
The service included a 40-piece orchestra and a 100-member combined choir from the host Colonial Baptist and Yow’s personal church, Cary Alliance Church, a few miles down the road. More than 1,400 people attended.
In the video, a vibrant, smiling Yow shared her faith journey in her soft Southern drawl. She talked about her reluctance to listen to a Campus Crusade for Christ representative in the fall of 1975 who had hoped to spread the gospel with the women’s basketball team. The persistent director, Laurie Moore, kept coming to Yow’s office, hoping to set up a meeting with the team.
The coach hemmed, hawed, hesitated and sometimes hid when she knew Moore was scheduled to come by.
The coach finally relented and let Moore address the team. Only one person was converted that night was Yow. She lived a devoted and faithful life from that point forward, seeking guidance from her pastors and peppering them with deep theological questions. She eventually became a gentle and caring Christian.
Her faith was tested, but never doubted, during her public battles with cancer, the fight that made the well-decorated coach more famous over the final four years of her life. Yow made sure that neither her accomplishments nor the cancer that took her life last Saturday at the age of 66 dominated the carefully planned service.
It’s probably not surprising that the former Crusader, now Dr. Laurie Moore Skinner of St. Louis, was somewhat embarrassed to hear that she had been prominently mentioned in Yow’s final video. She would have rather Yow spent more time trying to convince others to accept Christianity instead of remembering how the coach resisted, like so many others, the overtures Moore made more than 30 years ago.
But the story was fitting, because for Yow, nothing defined her life more than her strong faith, even though she recorded more than 700 victories, won four ACC Tournament titles, an Olympic gold medal and took her 1998 team to the Final Four.
“And now I say farewell,” Yow said in the video’s final moments, as the church echoed with sniffles. “And it's been a wonderful journey, especially since the time I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior.”
It would take too long to mention every former player at the service. And the coach made it clear that she didn’t want any one of them singled out for being there. That’s why she spoke at the service instead of having her former players do it. Suffice it to say there were scores of her former pupils in the chairs, including many from her four years as head coach at Elon and more than 100 from her 34-year coaching career at NC State.
Throughout the day, hundreds of people filed through the church’s hallways to say their farewells, to speak to the family and offer their condolences to interim head coach Stephanie Glance and the current members of the Wolfpack women’s team.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and his staff were among the first at the church at 10 a.m. Fordham men’s coach Dereck Whittenburg, a member of NC State’s 1983 NCAA championship team, was close behind. Former NC State football coach Chuck Amato stopped in en route to a recruiting visit, as did Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen.
The church turned into a who’s who of women’s college basketball for the funeral service. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and her staff flew in from Knoxville. Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, who spent 14 years at Duke, attended, as did Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. ACC coaches Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina, Joanne McCallie of Duke (with most of her players), Debbie Ryan of Virginia, Sue Semrau of Florida State and former Maryland coach Chris Weller were all there.
Current Wolfpack men’s coach Sidney Lowe brought his team through the church for the pre-funeral viewing, before returning to campus for their final practice before Saturday’s game against North Carolina.
Every NC State varsity coach was on hand, from men’s golf coach Richard Sykes, who is the only person who has served longer in the athletics department than Yow, to new women’s soccer coach Steve Springthorpe, who arrived last week from Fresno State. Most of the members of the athletics department staff, from director Lee Fowler on down, attended.
Football coach Tom O’Brien and defensive coordinator Mike Archer were there, as was former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, whose wife Kaye played basketball under Yow at NC State. NFL players Terrance and Torry Holt, who are from Yow’s hometown of Gibsonville, N.C., were in attendance.
A half dozen members of both NC State national championship men’s team were on hand, including David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Phil Spence, Lorenzo Charles and Mike Warren. Men’s players from the last five decades from former ACC Player and Athlete of the Year Lou Pucillo to former head coach Les Robinson to Cary Academy coach Kenny Inge came by to pay their respects.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford and most of his staff from the Atlantic Coast Conference offices attended, as did the athletics directors from North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina, among others. Newly elected Governor Beverly Perdue was the last person seated before the service started.
Both Joan Sloan and Pam Valvano Strasser, widows of the late Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano, were at the service, along with V Foundation for Cancer Research CEO Nick Valvano.
Just prior to the airing of Yow’s video, the entire congregation stood up and sang “Victory in Jesus,” accompanied by the orchestra and choirs. The service closed with a thunderous rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
The day ended as current and former players, family and friends filed past the closed casket. It all ended just as Yow planned, as everyone celebrated her final victory over earthly travails and her relocation to a better place.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.