February 1, 2009
Yow-za! Coach Shares Faith at Own Funeral
You read that right. Through a pre-recorded video, N.C. State women's basketball coach Kay Yow, who died last week, gave her testimony at her own funeral on Friday.
It's great to read the stories of faith and football preceding today's Super Bowl. But almost lost amid all those tales from Tampa is another remarkable story of sports and spirituality, this one out of a small town in North Carolina.
More than 6,000 people showed up in Cary, NC, Friday for the funeral of Kay Yow, who had been the women's basketball coach at N.C. State University for 34 seasons before losing a two-decade battle to breast cancer last week at the age of 66.
Yow, a Hall of Famer, won over 700 games and coached the 1988 U.S. Olympic women's team to a gold medal. But that's not why thousands flocked to her funeral. They came en masse because she had touched so many lives by her kindness and a deep Christian faith.
Yow deemed her faith the most important thing in her life, so it's no surprise that she would want the gospel message preached at her funeral. But what was a surprise was that she gave the message herself in this 25-minute video, a remarkable, moving farewell recorded some time before her death.
After describing heaven as a place of no more tears or pain, a smiling Yow said in the video, "I am saying to you now, rejoice, because I am now in a wonderful location with my heavenly Father."
She also said, "I don't want you to fret over the fact that I'm not here or question why I'm not here. Because God knows what he's doing. He doesn't make mistakes. ... I have now a place in heaven with him.''
Yow went on to give her testimony about coming to Christ as a young coach, telling several stories, and concludes by sharing the gospel via the "Romans Road," sharing verse-by-verse how to become a Christian.
Her message apparently had a big effect on those attending the funeral.
"Obviously I don't think there was a person in that room that wasn't touched and probably affected by her words,'' Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt said. "I have never known of a service like this. And it would be just like Kay to be the absolute first.''
I first met Kay Yow in 1978 as a 19-year-old sportswriter at The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia, where I covered women's basketball. Even at that first meeting--a post-game interview--it was clear there was something about Coach Yow that made her different: A kind and gentle spirit you didn't often see in the cut-throat atmosphere of big-time college basketball. She was competitive, of course, and wanted to win every game. But for her, relationships meant more than anything. She often told younger coaches that they could be friends first, competitors second.
I'll be planted on the couch this evening in front of the Super Bowl just like everybody else, taking note of all the players and coaches in the game who have talked about their faith. But at the same time, I'll be remembering one of the classiest coaches, at any level, that I ever met.
Rest in peace, Kay.
(Yow also discussed her faith with FCA's Sharing the Victory a couple years ago here.)