Cowgirls honored as Community Heroes following tragedy, triumphs
For the staff, the young women and the family that took the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night during the Thunder regular-season finale, last November probably never felt so far away – or so near.
The Oklahoma State University Cowgirls' story this season has epitomized both tragedy and triumph, both loss and togetherness, but it culminated with two joyous moments: winning the WNIT tournament in late March, and being honored as the Devon Energy Community Heroes for April during the Thunder game.
This is not an ending that any of the folks in orange on the court Wednesday night could have imagined when the news came in November that women's Head Coach Kurt Budke and Assistant Coach Miranda Serna, as well as program supporters Olin and Paula Branstetter, had been killed in a plane crash.
"We started the year with the idea of paying honor to the two wonderful people that we lost in the tragedy," Head Coach Jim Littell said. "And I believe that these young ladies did that all year long."
The trophy was there with the Cowgirls at center court as they received an ovation for their honor, the crowd taking quickly to its feet. But the reminders were there, as well; the team and staff all wore orange T-shirts bearing an image familiar to most Oklahomans – a bent figure, an orange background and a memorial ribbon.
On the back, the team added a quote from Coach Budke's sister, Mickey Ratzlaff: "Believe in God, Believe in Yourself, Believe in the team."
"We're close, we're like a family – we've been like that always," said Tiffany Bias. "We stuck together and got through it together."
That family extends beyond the team to include the family that lost their husband and father in the tragedy. Coach Budke's wife and children joined the team on the court to accept the Community Hero honor.
"It was just a thrill for our team to be here and to be recognized," Littell added. "I think it exemplifies what these kids have been all year long – they had great courage and were very resilient, and we're just so proud of them.
"I know (for) Oklahoma State, the OSU family, the community of Stillwater and for the state – for these kids to finish this way is just amazing."
The Devon Community Heroes program honors the strong spirit of Oklahomans and our willingness to pitch in when friends, neighbors or even strangers need our help. The Thunder recognizes an outstanding individual or group each month throughout the season for their contributions to our community. For more information on the program, CLICK HERE.