CARY, N.C. — Hundreds of friends, fans and colleagues of Kay Yow remembered the longtime North Carolina State women's basketball coach Friday at a funeral of her own design.
Yow died last weekend after a two-decade fight against cancer. At her funeral at a packed Colonial Baptist Church, the pews filled with bold-faced names from college sports and many of Yow's former players, pastor Stephen Davey said Yow hand-picked almost every element of the service.
"She wanted one final chance to challenge and impact all of our lives," Davey said.
Yow was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, yet went on to lead the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal the next year. She won more than 700 games in her career and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002.
But for many, Yow was best known for her unwavering resolve while fighting cancer, which recurred during the 2004-05 season and had lingered in the years since. She raised awareness and money for research while staying with her team through the debilitating effects of the disease and chemotherapy treatments.
She had to take a four-game leave in December due to what was described as extremely low energy. She 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. She was 66.
"Her battle with breast cancer was never about herself," said Megan Smith, an employee at the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer fund in Atlanta, before the funeral. "She was such a courageous and humble person at the same time."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and Miami coach Katie Meier stopped at a viewing for Yow, while Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie and her team, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer and Texas coach Gale Goestenkors, the former coach at Duke, arrived early for the service.
Others paying respects 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. Yow will be buried Saturday in her hometown of Gibsonville.
But none of Yow's famous friends were slated to speak.
"She did not want to show any kind of favoritism because there was just none in her heart. None," the Rev. Mitchell Gregory, her pastor at Cary Alliance Church.
Retired professor Janie Brown, the former chair of the physical education department at Elon University, remembered speaking to Yow a couple of 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 like 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 an area mall to pick out clothes for Yow's funeral, a task that 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 — the color of breast cancer awareness — and eager to share their stories of how Yow inspired them while battling the disease.
She spent 38 season 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.
Yow took a 16-game leave to focus on her health during the 2006-07 season. Her return that year sparked an emotional late-season run to the NCAA tournament's round of 16.
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.