STILLWATER — The first time Kurt Budke walked into Gallagher-Iba Arena as an Oklahoma State University employee, he
Larry Reece said that when Budke would bring women's basketball recruits to OSU's historic coliseum, he would walk them to midcourt and say, “Look at this place. I love this place. And you will, too.”
Monday, that place Budke loved became the place where he was
Budke died Thursday in an Arkansas plane crash that also killed OSU assistant coach Miranda Serna and university boosters Olin and Paula Branstetter, who were piloting the
“We're in this place because they loved this place,” Reece said.
Budke, a Kansan who coached in junior colleges and Louisiana Tech University, became an immediate OSU cheerleader when Birdwell hired him in 2005.
“I felt like he was an OSU kind of guy,” said Birdwell, who now is in private business but was OSU's athletic director from 2002-05. “From the first day, he was a part of us.”
The service was attended by about 6,000, including Gov. Mary Fallin, former OSU men's basketball coach Eddie Sutton, former OSU Presidents James Halligan and David Schmidly, university benefactor T. Boone Pickens and a host of basketball coaches connected with the Big 12 Conference, including Sherri Coale, who headed a 23-person contingent from the University of Oklahoma.
The somber occasion brought back memories of the plane crash that killed 10 members of OSU men's basketball traveling party on Jan. 27, 2001. A similar memorial was staged a few days later in Gallagher-Iba.
“We have been here before,” said Reece, an OSU executive fundraiser and basketball public-address announcer who presided over the service.
Birdwell spoke at the memorial service in 2001. Monday, he sat with OSU staff members in the crowd.
As Hargis left the arena Monday, he stopped to speak with Birdwell.
“Did you ever think we'd be here again?” Birdwell asked Hargis.
Responded Hargis, “I'm just worried that God thinks we can handle it.”
OSU handles this heavy burden by binding together. Birdwell grew emotional afterward talking about Budke.
“When you stumble through life, how many people do you really know who believe what they say they believe and live it?” Birdwell said.
“It was just apparent to me that so many young women look for someone willing to make them believe in themselves.”
Belief and dreams were a common theme of those who talked about Budke.
Ally Clardy, who played for Budke from 2006-10, said Budke's trademark orange sportcoat displayed his pride in OSU.
“After he busted out that jacket, I always asked him when he was going to pull it out again,” Clardy said. “He'd say, ‘Oh, don't worry, it's charged. I charged it overtime.'”
Clardy said Budke loved Gallagher-Iba Arena, “loved all that orange. His dream was made when he made it here. What's crazy is he made our dream come true by being here.”
Clardy stood with former teammates Megan Byford, Shaunte Smith and Taylor Hardeman as Hardeman spoke at the service.
Also speaking were OSU athletic director Mike Holder; interim coach Jim Littell, Budke's longtime friend; and Hargis.
“Players come here and dream,” Holder said. “Coaches are supposed to make those dreams come true. … I can tell you with great joy, the dream's still alive.”
Hargis said the best coaches and teachers are those who teach their athletes and students how to believe in themselves.
Hargis said Budke and Serna would tell their players today, “This game is not over. We can win. We taught you how. We can't be on the court with you, you'll have to win yourself.
“We love you, we believe in you. Go Pokes.”