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November 18, 2011

Budke: Far more than a coach

STILLWATER, Okla. -- In January 2001, Oklahoma State University mourned the loss of 10 lives associated with the school's men's basketball program after a plane crash in Byers, Colo.

On Friday morning, nearly 11 years later, the Oklahoma State basketball program once again found itself in mourning, again due to a plane crash.

Cowgirl basketball head coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna died Thursday evening when the plane they were riding in on a recruiting trip crashed near Perryville, Ark.

"It is a terribly sad day for Oklahoma State University," university spokesperson Gary Shutt said. "Coach Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna were on a recruiting trip yesterday. They were with Olin Branstetter and Paula Branstetter."

Olin Branstetter is a former Oklahoma state senator.

"He was the pilot," Shutt said. "His wife is also a pilot. They were the only four aboard the aircraft."

According to the Associated Press, hunters in Perry County, Ark., heard the plane in trouble and notified emergency personnel around 4 p.m.

"The plane was spitting and sputtering and then it spiraled and went nose first into the ground," Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery told reporters.

The four had been traveling to see games in Little Rock, Ark. Shutt said the prospects that the coaches intended to watch played games at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday night.

*****

On Friday morning, associate head coach Jim Littell was named the interim head coach going forward in the 2011-12 Cowgirl basketball season.

But that was the furthest thing from his mind on Friday as he met with reporters.

"Seven years ago, when we walked through these doors and Coach walked in for his press conference ... his zeal for Oklahoma State was incomparable," Littell said. "He loved this place. He loved coming here every day.

"Everybody here loved the man. He was far more than a basketball coach. I want people to realize that - he was far more than a basketball coach. You talk about a loving husband. A tremendous dad."

Mike Holder, the university vice president for athletics, was already in Ames, Iowa, with the football team for its nationally-televised contest with Iowa State Friday night, but left to return to Stillwater when he got the news.

"We are shocked by this terrible loss. Kurt Budke was an incredibly positive influence on his players and was a tremendous coach," Holder said. "He quickly turned our program around and put Cowgirl basketball on the map. Miranda was a tireless worker and great recruiter."

But OSU men's basketball head coach Travis Ford's comments to television reporters may have best captured the raw emotion felt by the school and its supporters.

"I just found out and there are so many unanswered questions," Ford said. "I just saw him. We talked every single day. He came to my shootarounds. It just doesn't seem real. It doesn't seem real. It doesn't seem real.

"I was there in the office when it came across the ticker and I went right to his house. I just left his wife and children. I'm stunned. I'm saddened. I'm pissed."

*****

Condolences poured in Friday morning from students, players and coaches from other Big 12 and collegiate programs.

Texas A&M women's basketball head coach Gary Blair issued a heartfelt statement Friday morning.

"The basketball world and college athletics has lost a great man and a great young assistant coach," Blair said. "Coach Budke has been the person that I've been the closest to in the league since we both joined. We both can trace our history back to Louisiana Tech as assistants. He was somebody I talked to regularly on the phone just about the game itself and the direction we were going. He was a devout family man and the conversation never stopped without us talking about our own kids, not just the players we coached. Miranda was one of the young rising stars in recruiting and as an assistant coach."

The head coach of Baylor, Kim Mulkey, said the deaths would have a wide impact.

"There's a bigger picture out there and it's not a basketball game, it puts life in perspective." Mulkey said. "I feel for the Oklahoma State community. How many more tragedies can they endure?"

Several Cowboy football players - already in Iowa preparing for Friday night's game - sent along their thoughts via social media, including quarterback Brandon Weeden.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the Budke and Serna families. 2 great people," read Weeden's message on Twitter.

Scheduled women's basketball home games this weekend against Grambling State and Texas-Arlington have been cancelled, as has Friday and Sunday night's wrestling duels. The Oklahoma State - Iowa State football game will be played as scheduled.

*****

Budke was 50 years old, and is survived by his wife Shelley and three children - Sara, Alex and Brett.

Serna is survived by her mother, Nettie Herrera, father John Serna and sister Cassandra.

Budke and Serna's paths first crossed at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, where Budke won four junior college national titles in seven seasons. His 1996 championship team included included Serna, a Guadalupita, N.M., native. She went on to finish her playing career at the University of Houston in the 1996-97 season, and returned to TVCC in 1997 as an assistant under Budke.

The two's careers departed for four seasons, when Budke took a position as associate head coach at Louisiana Tech. Budke took over as head coach at Louisiana Tech in 2002 and Serna joined his staff there in 2003 and the two stayed together in the move to OSU.

Budke and Serna found success on the basketball court wherever they went, but the sentiment in Stillwater on Friday was clearly more about their success as human beings.

Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, who fought through tears several times in front of TV cameras in the school's press conference, perhaps summed it up best:

"They were just both beautiful people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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