There were no survivors.
When I read those words in the official press release on Friday morning, an awful phone call with a fellow journalist and friend was confirmed.
Oklahoma State University lost four more in another tragic plane crash. When I first answered the phone and heard those words... "Kurt and Miranda ... they're ... gone ..." I just didn't believe it. Gone where, gone how? Though I knew what the voice of sadness and dispair was telling me, it just didn't register fully.
When I got off my phone, it began to blink at me - new email. And that is when my disbelief turned to reality: with the simple title "Cowgirl Basketball", I knew. This was not a simple story that I would read, not a typical press release or game notes for Saturday's contest with Grambling. This would be a note that would cut me down to my knees, make my bleeding orange heart skip a beat and make the tears flow freely down my face. The pair I had seen just this past Sunday as they opened the 2011-12 women's basketball season with a resounding win were two of a quartet flying over the forested Arkansas landscape in a Piper Cherokee that crashed on Thursday afternoon on their way to a recruiting trip.
Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna along with pilot Olin Brandstetter and his wife Paula, both OSU alums, were indeed ... gone.
It brought me back to nearly 11 years earlier, as a recent college graduate and still an all-sports season ticket holder. On that fateful January night, I saw the news break in across the television, and I saw the haggard face of Eddie Sutton confirming that yes, 10 of the Cowboy basketball family were gone in a terrible plane crash.
That is a day - a moment in time - that I will never forget.
I won't forget the last game I saw with the crew fully intact, I won't forget the mournful memorial service in a packed and somber GIA, I won't forget those 10 names etched on my heart and etched in the granite in the lobby of the arena, and I won't forget the first game back on the court with a different look yet a renewed spirit of the sense of family that truly brought Oklahoma State together in those dark days.
And now, I have a new set of memories I won't forget.
Before this past Sunday's Cowgirls game - the season opener against Rice - Serna was all business leading warmups with the team. She was where she could always be found before the Cowgirls took the court: standing under the basket and calling out drills while pushing the 13 women on the roster to work harder.
After the Cowgirl win, Budke was typically his happy self, smiling his way through the press conference. He was, as always, careful to answer everyone's questions thoroughly, even looking me in the eye and giving my little camera a smile as I asked about his star of the game. And as was customary, win or lose, Budke left the room with a "Thanks for coming today", always appreciative to those who covered his team - "his kids" as he oftentimes called them.
On Thursday, an old college friend of mine was in town and after sharing a plate of cheese fries, I prodded him to go see the memorial and walk through Heritage Hall. Every time I have the pleasure of heading up to Stillwater to cover a game or help in the office, those sights always give me a chance to reflect and always prompt me to remember.
The initial Friday morning phone call that came as I was preparing for another day to begin, and that email that I struggled to comprehend are now burned into my mind. As I struggled to put the news out, I cried with every word I typed. And as I desperately sought to find words to express my emotions, I came up empty. This is the best that I can do - and despite no profound words, I will always have those memories.
I will miss the opportunity to make new memories, to see these coaches hone their craft on the sidelines of Gallagher-Iba Arena. I will miss meeting the newest Cowgirl recruits that Coach Serna brought into the fold and seeing them flourish. I will miss a friendly nod and smile every time I saw Coach Budke, whether it be in the hallways, in the interview room or near the court. I will miss him giving these underclassmen hugs and flowers on senior day as they left the program with pride. I will miss his obvious respect not only for all the people that he came into contact with, but for the game he loved. I will miss that crazy orange blazer that got broken out for special occasions.
I will miss not hearing the optimistic voice of the Cowgirls, excited for the season ahead, excited for the bright future of all of his kids - and all his staff, himself included - in the coming years. I will miss seeing that bright future come to fruition under the tutelage of Budke and Serna and the rest of the Cowgirl staff as we knew it just 24 hours ago.
I will miss a lot of things, but I will also remember. And now instead of just taking time to Remember the 10, I will add four more to that list. To always remember.