Lessons Learned from Tragedy

A crying cowboy is surrounded by the faces of the ten men who died in a plane crash on January 27th, 2001 (courtesy tulsaworld.com)

Editor’s Note, 11/18/11: After the devastatingly sad plane crash last night that took the lives of Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach and assistant coach, we began to receive a great many reviews of this post (pub. 1/28/11) once again.  Our thoughts and prayers are most certainly extended to the families, team members, and Oklahoma State community for this most recent plane-related tragedy, and to those connected to the two others who died in the crash as well.  Kelly Ogle at News9 just posted a Twitter photo of the girls’ team gathered around the kneeling Cowboy memorial, circling in prayer. You can view the photo HERE. ~ RDK


by Rob Loeber

It is impossible to walk past the memorial and not feel…something.  Front and center inside the doors of Gallagher-Iba arena is the tribute to ten men who had their lives cut short.  A single Cowboy kneels and cries, representing the tears of a team, a university, and a state.  Looking out at that Cowboy are the smiling faces of those ten men.  It’s as if one look is at once a reminder of our grief and a lasting image of just how joyful life can be.

Thursday marked the tenth anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of those ten men.  Ten years later, an unspeakable tragedy in a field in Colorado, still echoes in the hearts and minds of everyone who lives in this state.  Those associated with OSU have taken every step to ensure that no one will ever forget what happened on the night of January 27th, 2001.

Time may indeed heal all wounds, but some wounds need to be recognized and embraced for the benefit of those left behind.  This is one of those wounds, and a celebration of those men is exactly what OSU continues to bring forth a decade after their lives were ended.  The University honored those men beautifully on Wednesday night before, during, and after a game against Texas.

Thousands of OSU fans put on t-shirts for Wednesday's game to honor the memory of the lives lost (courtesy tulsaworld.com)

For once the historic arena was filled, not because of basketball, but because of a legacy left by ten men.  Thousands put on orange t-shirts with the words “Remember the Ten.”  Oklahoma State has never retired a number, until Wednesday night.  A banner with the number ten and each man’s name was raised to the rafters.  No one will ever wear the number ten for an OSU basketball team, and there could not be a more fitting way to remember the lives that were lost.  Too often, the passage of time means memories fade.  OSU is ensuring that the memory of those men will be kept alive for generations.

The message being sent by OSU is a message that needs to be heard more often.  In this sports-crazed society we’ve become obsessed with seeing our team make the NCAA tournament.  We spew words of anger and frustration when our football team doesn’t cover the spread.  We curse at officials and put nearly impossible expectations on coaches and players.  We push our kids to be stronger, run faster, and work harder, not for the sake of enjoyment, but for the sake of getting one more win.  As fans, we sometimes shift our priorities without even knowing it.  Next time we shrug somebody off who tells us “it’s just a game,” maybe we should remember the ten.  Maybe then we’ll realize how much truth is in that simple statement.

Kyle Keller will tell you that his outlook on life was altered on that January day.  Keller was an OSU assistant coach and he was supposed to be on the plane that crashed.  Instead, Eddie Sutton asked that Keller move to a different plane and give his seat to Nate Fleming.  (Watch ESPN’s moving story on Fleming and Keller here: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=110126/OklahomaState)

It’s obvious from the story, that Keller’s life was forever changed by that moment.  Keller, now an assistant at Kansas, has probably never viewed a basketball game with the same importance as he did before the crash.  No one can speak for Keller, Eddie Sutton, or the other members of the OSU program, but it would safe to assume they are different people because of what they went through together.

As we remember those ten men, let’s also pause for a moment and take a hard look at ourselves.  Let’s look at our sports and our teams as entertainment instead of funneling our passion into something which holds no real value.  Let’s remember those men by challenging ourselves to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends.

If you don’t have the proper perspective in your own life, take the time to visit that memorial.  Take the time to look closely at those men.  Chances are you will weep, and you will be changed…for the better.

OSU retired the number ten on Wednesday night and this banner now hangs from the roof of Gallagher-Iba arena (courtesy tulsaworld.com)

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families of these ten men:

Kendall Durfey

Bjorn Fahlstrom

Nate Fleming

Will Hancock

Dan Lawson

Brian Luinstra

Denver Mills

Pat Noyes

Bill Teegins

Jared Weiberg



4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Tragedy”

  1. Great story Rob! We have been living in TN for the last 20 years, but that didn’t lessen the impact of this tragedy in our lives. Watching this story on ESPN helps remind you of how precious life is. Inscribed inside of mine and every OSU class ring is the motto “Connected for Life”, how true this is.

    1. Thanks Jani! It’s sad to look back on what families in our state have had to deal with over the last 15 years…the bombing, the tornadoes in 1999, this plane crash, flooding, and more tornadoes. Our state is stronger because of it, and it’s one of the reasons I love living here! I used to be in Stillwater a couple times a week for my job, and I never could walk by that memorial without stopping. It really is something everyone should see.

    1. Thanks Jen! I really can’t say enough about what OSU has done and what they are doing to honor those men, they get full credit for handling Wednesday night’s activities with class and the perfect sense of remembrance.

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