Kay Yow accomplished most everything a women's basketball coach could dream. Over a 37-year career that included 34 seasons with North Carolina State, she compiled 737 victories, leading the Wolfpack to 20 NCAA tournament bids, 11 Sweet 16 appearances, and a Final Four in 1998. Outside the college ranks, she coached the 1988 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Seoul, Korea.
But with her passing at the age of 66 last month, after more than two decades fighting breast cancer, Yow pointed her friends and well-wishers to look beyond basketball. In a video she'd recorded four years earlier with instructions to play it at her funeral, the Naismith Hall of Fame coach delivered 21 minutes of gospel, urging with deep sincerity that all who watched might come to Christian faith.
"Today, as I speak, I hope you won't be hearing Kay Yow speak, but that you'll be hearing the Lord speak through me," she opened, her voice faltering with grandmotherly affection.
Yow recounted the story of her religious conversion in 1975, when a persistent Campus Crusade staff member elbowed her way into a 15-minute audience with Yow's players, during which she presented the message of Jesus and charged the team to repent. One person responded. It was Yow.
Christianity took root quickly in the young coach, her lifelong commitments to kindness and hard work folding into her new faith. She often spoke openly of her personal relationship with Jesus and penned poetry to further communicate it.
In her posthumous video, she quoted lines from these simple forays of verse: "There's just something about sport that touches every part of me. More like Jesus let it make me. Let it make me more like thee." And elsewhere: "I'd rather have Jesus than a gold medal."
Yow charged her listeners not to grieve as though for one lost forever, but to "rejoice" that she had gone home: "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 is doing. God doesn't make mistakes. He knows what is best for each of us. He's in total control."
Veteran utility player Ryan Freel rarely makes headlines. The longtime Cincinnati Reds slap hitter acquired by the Baltimore Orioles this off-season hits few home runs and strikes little fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.
But Freel's contribution is not without significance. The 32-year-old has a reputation for clubhouse shenanigans and on-field grit, a combination that teammates credit as inspirational.
Heading into spring training this year, Freel has inspired a few folks off the roster, too. He selected music from a Christian rap artist as his theme song for plate appearances, hoping to lend exposure to an often overlooked cultural niche. To his surprise, the choice to use Easop's "Out Tha Box" triggered a flood of emails from Christian well-wishers around the world. Freel called the reaction "the most humbling thing that I have ever experienced."
In gratitude, he is offering fans the chance to win a pair of game tickets and a personal meeting with him for one game of most every series this season. No word on whether fans might also meet the consummate goofball's imaginary friend "Farney."