Stillwater, Oklahoma — Thursday’s plane crash that killed Cowgirls basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and Olin and Paula Branstetter extends beyond the Oklahoma State University campus.
The Stillwater community is also reeling from the tragedy. Budke, who began coaching at OSU in 2005, has three children who attended Stillwater High School.
His middle child, Alex, was among eight seniors who nearly led the Pioneers boy’s basketball team to the 6A state championship tournament last year.
SHS boy’s basketball coach Michael Davis now coaches the youngest Budke sibling, Brett, a sophomore. Budke’s oldest child, Sara, also played basketball for the Lady Pioneers before graduating in 2008.
Instead of the two compititors clashing heads, Davis said he and Budke often coordinated to make the SHS boy’s basketball team better. In fact, the 13-year SHS head coach credits much of his team’s success to lessons learned from Budke.
“He wanted us to be the best we can be,” Davis said. “He would watch practice and do whatever he could to help Pioneer boy’s basketball become better. He didn’t have to take the time with us, but that’s the kind of person coach Budke was.”
That’s what made Budke a resource to the team, Davis said, but he also once served as an asset. Before the 2010-11 season, Budke coached the SHS boy’s basketball team during a summer tournament in Texas.
“Most people would take that the wrong way — but not me — it helped us,” Davis said. “We ended up having a heck of a year last year.”
Furthermore, it gave Alex an opportunity to be coached by his father. Former teammate Conner Lamb said he considered the summer tournament an awesome experience to learn from someone with such intelligence and passion for the game.
“The best parts of the trip were not on the court but off the court during the time spent with him,” Lamb said. “It really speaks for his compassion for us and the relationship we built.”
SHS basketball members past and present circulated in and out of the Budke residence all day Friday. The dedication from those closest to Budke proves how significant a figure he is in the community, Lamb said.
“People who really know him have seen his personality and his love and caring he shared for everyone — he could talk to anyone,” he said. “Stillwater has seriously been changed for a day.”
Cowgirls interim basketball coach Jim Littell echoed that sentiment, calling him far more than a basketball coach, but also a loving husband, father and friend.
“We would sit around and brag about our kids how much we love our kids and watching them grow up in a great community,” he said. “This was his dream situation.”
And as members of the OSU and Stillwater communities recover from this tragedy, parallels are difficult to avoid between this plane crash and the Jan. 27, 2001, accident that killed 10 members of the Cowboys basketball travel party while returning from a game in Colorado. Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, who was OSU president at the time of the plane crash 10 years ago, spoke briefly about Thursday’s incident during the Third Friday Forum at the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re all saddened by (the plane crash),” Halligan said.
Just as with the tragedy 10 years ago, the OSU family and Stillwater community will remember those lost, said OSU President Burns Hargis. While the initial future appears bleak, he said, there is hope for the tight-knight families at OSU and throughout Stillwater.
“I think the community had an enormous role and will have an enormous role in any loss we have here in the Stillwater family community, but it isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “There’s no roadmap here or playbook for dealing with this kind of thing. Everybody deals with it in their own way, and the only thing you can do is just be supportive, hug them tight and grieve with them.”
Close family friends will continue to support the Budke family in the days and weeks ahead, Lamb said. Even those less familiar with the family have also lent their support.
“Everyone’s coming out, even people that Alex didn’t know very well are coming out to show their appreciation,” Lamb said.
The SHS boy’s basketball team will arrange a tribute in honor of the Budke family before its Nov. 29 first home game, Davis said. It’s the start of a season that will be dedicated in his honor.
“Coach Budke would want us to keep on keeping on and represent him,” he said, “because we would love to win it all this year for coach Budke.”
Joe Lanane is the news editor at the Stillwater NewsPress.