Oklahoma State University will hold a memorial service to honor the lives of Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna today at 2 p.m. EDT after the entire campus and alumni community mourned their losses this weekend after news of a fatal plane crash spread on Friday morning.
News of the crash sent shockwaves throughout the women's basketball community this weekend, even for coaches that would neither claim Budke as a close friend or familiar opponent.
On Friday night, just under 1700 miles northwest of Stillwater, Northern Colorado and University of San Francisco staffs that hardly knew the two OSU coaches honored their memories by wearing orange ribbons for their game on the Bay Area campus where legendary OSU men's basketball coach Eddie Sutton finished out his career.
"I was devastated when I saw that on TV this morning," said Northern Colorado coach Jamie White on Friday after an 85-81 win at USF. "And I had had some contact with the assistant Jim Littell quite a bit in recruiting and [this was] just absolutely sickening...Just something you don't ever want to happen to your program and you don't even know what to say about that."
For University of San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi, her first impression of Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke became an unfortunate lasting impression in light of the tragic news of his death.
Azzi first met Budke almost exactly a year ago at the 2010 University of New Mexico Tournament during the Thanksgiving holiday. Although they didn't play each other, Budke could relate to Azzi's situation as a first year coach taking over a program with minimum expectations that has hardly made a mark on the national NCAA landscape.
And through one small interaction at that tournament, she was left echoing a sentiment similar to that of friends and colleagues of many years.
"I knew both coaches and coach Budke was very kind and encouraging to me when we met last year in New Mexico for their tournament," said Azzi after the competitive loss to Northern Colorado. "I have cherished his words of encouragement since he had been where we are and persevered to build such a wonderful program at OSU. I am just so sad for losing such an outstanding coach and person."
Having both heard of the news during the course of their game day routine, both head coaches had obviously discussed the news with their teams. At a loss for how to respond, the discussion for White's team turned to safety.
"All of our hearts go out - I mean you wanna do something and you don't even know what you can do," said White, who mentioned that she took similarly sized jets while an assistant at the University of Wyoming. "it is devastating and it's something that, you know, we sat down and talked as a team and said we gotta take as many safety precautions as possible and make sure the kids know that they're safe and that we're going to do everything we can to be safe out there on the road.
"We all do crazy things - we drive at nights in the middle of snowstorms, we drive for too long, we recruit at crazy times and I think we just gotta take more precautions to be as safe as we can and maybe when it's not safe we don't do it. And not that he maybe could've done anything - what do you do?"
Naturally, Oklahoma State is examining their travel policies after losing two more members of their family. However, it's really a re-examination - they already changed the rules once after 10 members of the program were killed just over ten years ago in a plane crash.
As White clearly understands, even if this event were to inspire hyper-vigilance in thinking twice about doing "crazy things" in the course of recruiting and increased safety measures, there's no preparing for something like this; the very fact that the OSU community is reliving this is a clear reminder of that.
It's hard to truly understand what the OSU family is feeling right now as an outsider. But if there is a lasting shared feeling at any level in the aftermath of all of this - from coaches that never really knew the man to members of the OSU family who only cheered his team from a distance at Gallagher-Iba Arena - it's a feeling of helplessness. There might be a desire to impart wisdom to those who you mentor or do something in response, whether it be for the family or to prevent this "worst nightmare" from happening, but every effort to do so feels like grasping at straws even in the process of conceptualizing it.
And as Jessica Lantz articulated so well on Saturday, perhaps most devastating is the knowledge that this coach who accomplished what so many who take the reigns beleaguered programs wish to do will no longer have the opportunity to see the program he's built and young women he's shaped reach their full potential.
The orange ribbons worn in the immediate aftermath of the sad news at USF on Friday weren't unique - coaches across the nation made the same gesture throughout the weekend. But for all of that solidarity, it's hard to find any lessons to learn from this event, except that we should cherish the time we have and those we share it with even more.
A memorial service for the fallen four will be at Gallagher-Iba Arena at 2 p.m. EDT today, and streamed live by Oklahoma State.
Other responses from coaches:
And a few other links from the weekend: