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Courtesy: WMU

40 in 40 - Amy Yeast

Courtesy: Sean Fagan, Assistant Director of Media Relations
Release: 08/08/2012
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Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, takes a look at 40 key moments/females in the history of women's athletics at Western Michigan University. Though the selection process, an effort was made to highlight a moment and player/coach from each of our current women's sports programs, as well pay respect to our women's legacy sports. A different feature will be released each of the 40 days, July 24 through Sept. 1.

Amy Yeast
Women's Tennis: 1983-85
WMU Athletic Hall of Fame: 1997

"That was the day I grew up."

Those are the words of WMU head women's tennis coach Betsy Kuhle, recalling the day in 1985 when she received shocking news: Amy Yeast, a 21-year-old member of the Bronco tennis team, had tragically passed away on Saturday, December 21, 1985.

"It was a snowy December day just before Christmas, and I got the call from Amy's father," said Kuhle. "It was shocking. There was no explanation."

Yeast was a budding tennis star, a player defined as much by her talent as by her tenacity and dedication to improvement. By 1985 she was already a two-time Mid-American Conference singles champion and a three-time All-MAC selection. She had just helped the Broncos win their first conference championship in program history in the previous season, winning the No. 1 singles title and helping the Broncos to a share of the team title with Miami. With an 84-27 overall singles record, Yeast was ranked as the No. 1 amateur women's tennis player in the United States, and had competed in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials.

"She had a bright future," said Kuhle. "She wasn't just talented, she had a hunger for tennis."

Kuhle recalled that Yeast's tennis-playing contemporaries were a driving force behind her success.

"She was determined, because she grew up in a time period where there were competitors at her age that were just more talented," said Kuhle. "They were a group of people that she had to work hard to beat. So in that sense, it gave her some humility, but she also had a great sense that she would be able to get better and beat them."

Yeast had been with friends the night before, working at the NCAA Volleyball tournament match hosted at Western Michigan's Read Fieldhouse. Early the next morning, Yeast's roommate, WMU student-athlete Kayla Skelly, entered Yeast's room to find her lying motionless.

Skelly phoned for medical help and performed CPR on Yeast until the ambulance arrived. Yeast was taken to Bronson Methodist Hospital, where she was declared dead.

The story made national headlines. Condolences and sympathy cards came from across the country as Yeast's family and the Broncos struggled to cope with the loss of one with so much of her life ahead of her.

"That [1986] season was a tremendously difficult one for us," said Kuhle. "The whole team, as well as me personally. So many of the athletes had never experienced death in their lives at that point."

The tragic story of Amy Yeast is one that continues to have an effect on the Western Michigan athletics program, a story that reminds of us that while life is fragile, the memory of a person's character and life can transcend a community.

"She was a definite overachiever, and she came very honestly by that attitude," said Kuhle. "Her parents were both hard-working, and they set her up with an understanding of what things were important in life, how to treat other people, how to remain humble but still strive to reach the top."

Yeast's example is still seen daily in the women's tennis program. Starting in 1986, the Broncos have named the Amy Yeast Memorial Team MVP at the end of each season, an award given annually to the player who has demonstrated the most dedication, hard work, sportsmanship, and teamwork. In 1997, Yeast was inducted into the Western Michigan Athletics Hall of Fame, where her plaque serves as a reminder of her successes.

On December 23, 1985, friends, family, and the community gathered at Yeast's funeral. Chaplain Bruce Micola, Jr. said Yeast "lived life intensely and... was like a whirlwind when she entered the room." Kuhle spoke as well, saying it was Yeast's belief that, "hard work, determination, and sheer desire can take you to the top."

It is a sentiment that echoes today.