Oklahoma State plane crash anniversary: How Kurt Budke's 'win the next five minutes' approach sustains his widow

SHELLEY BUDKE — The plane crash that killed her husband and three others left a hole in her life that she fills the way Kurt Budke rallied his teams when they faced great obstacles. “Win the next five minutes.”
by Jenni Carlson Published: November 17, 2012
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STILLWATER — Shelley Budke remembers looking down at the huddle and seeing her husband celebrating with his players.

His team could be down 20 or 30 points — and that first season, it often was — but there he'd be back patting and high fiving. Everyone in his rag-tag band of seven players at Kansas City Kansas Community College would be smiling.

“Win the next five minutes,” he would say.

And when they did, they'd celebrate.

Since Kurt Budke died in a plane crash a year ago Saturday, Shelley has been living — and surviving — by those words.

“Win the next five minutes.”

On a day when many near and far will remember the four who were killed while on an Oklahoma State women's basketball recruiting trip, none will feel the loss quite like Shelley. She lost her husband. Her soul mate. Her best friend.

The days that have followed tested her like never before. Where Kurt was the orange-blazer-wearing, hand-shaking, back-slapping coach, Shelley preferred being in the background.

This extremely private and intensely religious woman became the face of the victims.

Earlier this week, for the first time since her husband's death, she talked about the crash. She talked about the struggles. She talked about the support.

She talked about the man she loved.

She talked, too, about the woman she's become.

* * *

Kurt Budke didn't make many recruiting trips during the season. He'd drive to see an in-state kid occasionally, but out-of-state trips meant missing practice.

He hated that.

After clawing his way up the coaching rankings — a climb that included a part-time job unloading UPS trucks and a decade coaching junior-college ball — Kurt rarely turned over practice to his assistants. A sloppy preseason made him even more hesitant last November.

“This is not a good week to be gone,” he told Shelley. “We need to get off to a good start.”

But he eventually decided to go to Arkansas.

Why?

There were two players in Little Rock who were considering the Cowgirls, Tyler Scaife and Roshunda Johnson, and Scaife happened to be one of the nation's best point guards.

“I know if we get this kid,” Kurt had said, “we can make a run at the title, the Big 12 title.”

Kurt's lead recruiter Miranda Serna had been busting her tail with the two players, especially Scaife, and she asked Kurt if he would go and help her. Sell the program. Seal the deal.

They were set to leave Stillwater Regional Airport at 1 p.m.

Kurt spent the morning at home. He did that whenever he was going to be gone in the evening. He worked a bit and rode his stationary bike for 45 minutes or an hour — watching game film or catching up on his reading as he did — but a good chunk of the morning was spent with Shelley.

But even as he left for the airport, he was questioning his decision.

“He was really torn,” Shelley said. “But he knew this kid ... ”

She sighed.

“That's the tough part about coaching. You can't ignore your future.”

* * *

Kurt said he'd be home by 12:30 a.m.

He always overestimated, too. He learned early in his relationship with Shelley that if he ran late, it worried her. So she knew that a little after midnight was the latest he'd be home.

Shelley texted Kurt a couple times during the afternoon just to see how things were going. Even though he didn't reply, she didn't think much of it.

“He's busy,” she thought.

She texted him again that evening, and this time when she got no reply, she started getting worried. He might not reply right away, but he usually did when they were either driving to the gym or heading to the airport.

Shelley texted Miranda. Over the years, the two had become like sisters. Miranda would go on family vacations with Kurt, Shelley and the three kids.

“I'm getting' worried about you guys,” Shelley wrote. “Where you at?”

No reply.

By 10 o'clock, she still hadn't heard from Kurt or Miranda, so she called Jim Littell. He was Kurt's longtime friend and assistant as well as Shelley's former college basketball coach.

“Have you heard from 'em because I haven't,” she told him. “I'm kind of getting worried.”

“No, I haven't heard from 'em,” he said. “If I hear from 'em, I'll call you back.”

Shelley went to bed but woke up around 12:15. She couldn't believe Kurt still hadn't called or texted. But then, for reasons that she can only attribute to God's mercy and grace, she fell back asleep.

At 2 a.m., she bolted straight up out of bed.

Kurt wasn't back.

She called the Stillwater airport and was given a number to call in case of an emergency. When no one answered that number, Shelley decided she had to do something.

“I gotta go,” she thought. “I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I'm gonna drive out to the airport.”

She got in her car, but as she started backing out of the garage, she noticed a bright light just down the street.

It was a police car.

Her next door neighbors were there. So was her good friend Julie Sanchez, wife of OSU's equestrian coach.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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