BEST DAY EVER
George Browning, Sports Writer, [email protected]
There is a saying that the bond between a player and a coach lasts a lifetime. Never more has that been on display like it was Friday night at Corydon Central High School.
Chase Best, who does a variety of things at his alma mater, including coaching, groundskeeping and, frankly, whatever else he is needed to do, got the surprise of his life when he found out his former Little League coach, Jake Yonkers, was going to donate one of his kidneys to him.
The attempt to keep the moment a surprise was successful because Best said he didn’t have a clue before the reveal was made during halftime of the boys’ varsity basketball game.
“I knew it was going to be a ‘green out’; that’s all I knew,” he said. “I didn’t even realize there were going to be special shirts made. (Chase’s wife, Heather) said the idea started last week, and I don’t know how so many people were able to keep it a secret for that long.”
The “green out” was designed to raise awareness for kidney disease. T-shirts were sold with proceeds benefiting the cause. According to the LivingKidney Donor Network, there are more than 93,000 people in the United States waiting for a kidney transplant; about 12 of them die each day.
Best, who is battling kidney disease to the point where he does dialysis several times a week, was called to mid-court during the midway point of the varsity game against Bedford North Lawrence.
Corydon Central athletic director John Atkins explained to those at the game the battle Best faces on a daily basis and then encouraged the crowd to find out how they could become donors by visiting bethematch.org.
Then, Atkins revealed the surprise as Best was given a special gift. Best pulled out a T-shirt that said “Kidney Buddies For Life.” As he looked up in surprise, Yonkers made his way to center court wearing a shirt with the same message. The two embraced and tears flowed throughout the gym.
“Once I read the shirt, I looked up and he was wearing one, too, I thought, ‘No way! This is unreal!’ ” Best said. “It’s the surprise of the lifetime. I am truly speechless about this.”
The bond between Best and Yonkers started in Minor League baseball many years ago and continued at Corydon Central. Yonkers helps out with the soccer program, and Best takes care of the field; the two bumped into each other last fall.
“We would fight for space on the Gator, and he would either give me a ride or I would give him a ride and that’s how we reconnected,” Yonkers said. “I know he is a grown man with a family of his own, but, in a sense, it still feels like he is that 13-year-old kid I got to coach.”
Yonkers also got to coach Best’s daughter in junior high soccer.
“She was about the age her dad was when I got to coach him,” he said. “She is a great kid, and they have a great family.”
Yonkers said he knew that Best was in need of a donor and, once he heard that his condition was worsening, he talked to his wife, Shannon, about seeing if he would be a match.
“I started thinking about it last fall and didn’t follow through because I kept thinking someone else will do it,” Yonkers said. “I knew he had lots of family and friends. Then, once I decided to do it, I didn’t even know how to start. Around Christmastime, Chase started getting worse and was in the hospital. There were a couple of donors who were close and they fell through. After talking with Shannon, I called Chase’s wife to find out how to start the process.”
To be a donor, you have to have the same blood type. Yonkers said he had no idea what blood type he had. He went to donate blood to find out. Once he got that information, the process started.
“I really saw God at work through this whole thing,” Yonkers said. “I called the donation coordinator and got the process started. It’s not an easy process to get through, but I kept passing each step of the process and got to this point.”
When the moment was over Friday night, Best said he was out of breath and he couldn’t get his heart to stop racing. He said to say it was the surprise of a lifetime would be an understatement.
“We never know who is even trying to be worked up to see if they are a match,” Best said. “This truly is amazing. It couldn’t have been any better than finding out here like this. This place is home. The staff and community are great. I put a lot of love and effort into this place because I love it so much and for them to come together and do this is amazing.”
There is no official date set for the transplant surgery, but Best said they have been told it will likely be the end of March or early April.