John E. Hoover: One year after crash, OSU still coping with loss
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, November 17, 2012
11/17/12 at 7:02 AM
Find more information about the crash and reaction, including a video of OSU President Burns Hargis’ press conference and a video of students’ reactions.
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.
Original Print Headline: OSU still coping with grief of crash
STILLWATER - The first year is the hardest. The one-year anniversary is torment.
But really, the calendar is almost irrelevant.
Losing a loved one, especially in something so dreadful and sudden as a plane crash, renders each day its own challenge.
Karen Hancock lost her husband, Will, in the Oklahoma State University men's basketball air disaster back in 2001. Hancock wishes she had an instruction manual for dealing with her grief. She wishes she could make copies for Shelley Budke and those left behind from the 2011 crash that killed OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and three others.
Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the crash. Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and OSU boosters/pilots Olin and Paula Branstetter died when their aircraft went down in a wooded area west of Little Rock on the way to a recruiting visit.
Oklahoma State administrators want to pay tribute to the fallen, but it's been a sensitive process.
"We're talking about a hard issue here. Grieving," Hancock said. "It would be so great if we could write out a manual or playbook, say this is how it's gonna be, this is how you have to live your life from here on out because this is how it's gonna be. But it just doesn't work that way."
Hancock, an OSU assistant soccer coach, can't pretend to know what Shelley Budke or others are feeling. Everyone's grieving experience is different, she said.
"The anniversary (Jan. 27) is very difficult some years, and sometimes it's not," said Hancock, whose daughter, Andie, was 2 months old when Will died. "I sometimes have random days that nearly bring me to my knees, and I can't exactly pinpoint why, other than I know it's tied to the loss of Will. And that's a dozen years later. But I can't look on a calendar and tell you in advance when that's gonna happen."
OSU head coach Jim Littell, who was interim coach last year when the Cowgirls won the WNIT championship with an unforgettable and emotional six-game run, all in Stillwater, declined interview requests this week. OSU also declined to make basketball players available for interviews.
The school is planning several small memorials and observances, but mostly everyone just wants the team to get past the sadness and play basketball.
One player heaved a deep breath when told this week about the events planned during Saturday's football game and Sunday's women's basketball game.
"Here we go again," she said.
That's not a sign of disrespect for the dead. Not at all. Players will wear "4" patches on their uniform this season to commemorate those lost. They still write their coaches' initials on their shoes. They still hug and cry and laugh and joke when they think about Budke and Serna.
Instead, there remains among the players and others a reluctance to continue embracing their grief.
It's so hard.
After the crash last season, each home game became its own little memorial service. And when Big 12 Conference play began in January, Oklahoma State's conference brethren wanted to pay homage in some way. Two or three games in, OSU administrators - recognizing the emotional toll each memorial was taking on the players - politely asked that no more ceremonies take place.
Last year, just like during Sunday's game, everyone wanted to reach out and embrace the Cowgirls. But for now, the Cowgirls just want to play basketball. They'll continue mourning in their own way.
"This season," said OSU academic adviser Agatha Adams, "it's like a new beginning."
Adams works closely with the members of the women's basketball team. She travels with the team for tournaments, sees the players every day and worked hand in hand with Serna. She spoke with Serna on her way out of the Gallagher-Iba Arena offices the day Serna died.
Adams said it took her six months before she could return to the coaches offices, and a part of her still expects to see Budke and Serna there when she does go in now.
Adams has been at OSU more than 23 years and was a key staffer at the time of the 2001 crash. As academic adviser for women's soccer also, she helped Karen Hancock and others cope with their grief then.
Adams learned of last year's crash around 4 a.m. the next day - on the three-year anniversary of her own mother's death.
"Not a day goes by I don't think about them," Adams said.
Likewise for Ryan Cameron, now in his 11th year as the team's media coordinator and publicist. Cameron was an OSU student and sports information assistant in 2001, and Nov. 18 - the day he got the news last year - is his birthday.
Cameron was good friends with Will Hancock and others in the 2001 crash. He said he didn't handle his sorrow well then and learned that those who are grieving probably can't do it alone. As tough as it was in 2001, it gave him some unexpected but vital training to help players cope last year and beyond. Four players transferred from last year's team, but seven are back. Those still here still receive grief counseling.
Cameron said the thing that probably will stay with him was after the formal memorial service at Gallagher-Iba, when Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale and the Sooners walked into the OSU locker room for a quiet gathering filled with tears and embraces.
"That was a surreal moment," Cameron said. "A locker room, that's a player's sanctuary; and to have your arch rival in there is something you'd never think would happen. That's burned in my memory forever, how gracious (Coale) was and how kind she was.
"It'll go down as one of the most rewarding seasons of any team I've worked with. ... I'm as proud of that team as I'll be of anybody that does anything here just because they pulled through despite their circumstances."
Shelley Budke attended every home game last season after the crash, including the WNIT finale, when she cut down the last thread of net from the rim and pointed it skyward.
She won't be at Sunday's game, though, or take part in any memorials. OSU administrators say she expressed a desire to be out of town with her children and avoid another overwhelming tidal surge of emotion.
Karen Hancock knows those feelings.
"In many ways, it was the defining moment in my life," Hancock said.
"It's changed everything. It's changed the fact that I don't have any more children, it's changed my life, it's changed my career. It's changed everything.
"I sometimes wonder how life would have been different if Will was still around. But it didn't work out that way."
Karen Hancock and Will Hancock: Karen Hancock lost her husband, Will, in the 2001 plane crash. "I sometimes have random days that nearly bring me to my knees...I know it's tied to the loss of Will," she said.