Sorrow Strikes Again In Stillwater
It started early Saturday morning, during Oklahoma State's homecoming parade. In broad daylight, among hundreds of fans, a young woman drove her car into a crowd of people alongside the parade.
She killed four people, including a two-year old boy, and injured 47 more. Four victims remain in critical condition.
The homecoming parade, usually a joyous mid-autumn event on college campuses, turned into a tragedy. "America's Greatest Homecoming Celebration," as they call it in Stillwater, was anything but.
Police arrested Adacia Avery Chambers at the scene for driving under the influence. She was unscathed, and is currently facing second degree murder charges.
Hours later, the aftermath. A somber scene. pic.twitter.com/EGGTsimU2Z— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) October 24, 2015
Oklahoma State considered cancelling their homecoming game against Kansas, but the school went through with the game. The Cowboys won 58-10 in front of 59,486 fans. Head coach Mike Gundy iterated the grandeur of the situation:
We were in football meetings when we found out about it and the first thing you do is you call and find out where your family is. Football all of a sudden doesn’t become very important... There are no words. There’s just nothing you can say. It just has to be the absolute worst thing that can happen to a family and loved ones.
Cowboys players prayed before kickoff, and the stadium joined in with a moment of silence for the victims.
Taking a backseat was the game. The rout was impressive and important - the Cowboys are now ranked #12 and are undefeated. At 7-0, the Big 12 is a toss-up between Oklahoma State and also undefeated TCU and Baylor. But more importantly, the tragedy in Stillwater is the third in recent memory. On January 27, 2001, a small plane crashed in the Colorado Rockies. All ten people aboard perished on impact. Eight of the ten had ties to the Oklahoma State Cowboys Men's Basketball team: two broadcasters, four coaches, and two players.
Stillwater was in shock. They placed a memorial, "Remember The Ten," outside of Gallagher-Iba Arena and people wore bright orange ribbons in memoriam. The plane was taking the Cowboys back from a loss against the Colorado Buffaloes when the pilots lost control in a snowstorm.
It is considered one of the worst days in Oklahoma State history, and it was followed ten years later by another strikingly similar disaster.
On November 17, 2011, a plane crashed near Perryville, Arkansas. All four of the people aboard perished on impact: Oklahoma State Women's Basketball head coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna, former State Senator Olin Branstetter and his wife.
Branstetter allegedly lost control of the aircraft, veering it into a ridge of land. There were no signs of inclement weather, malfunctioning equipment, or record of the pilot having a medical condition.
Again, Stillwater was caught in shock. Ryan Wylie, a student at the time, voiced the thoughts of Cowboys everywhere:
Lightning is not supposed to strike twice, but it did.
Context is incredibly important in understanding the emotional turmoil the people of Stillwater, Oklahoma are feeling. Oklahoma State is a proud university that has suffered a third irreconcilable disaster. When Gundy said "Football all of a sudden doesn’t become very important," he genuinely meant it. A man who has made his living on sport realizes the seriousness of the moment: this is a community that has weathered unimaginable turmoil being literally smacked into by another catastrophe.
And yet, in a different way, football did matter.
Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis chose to play the game in order to "remember the victims at the game." Just as the Cowboys did a day after the 2011 crash, they played football. The only way to truly heal from tragedy like this is to return to normalcy. For the Cowboys, normalcy is college football in October.
Beautiful sunset in Stillwater after a difficult day. pic.twitter.com/IaEDFq3sPw— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) October 24, 2015
A lot of us follow sports because they are an escape from the bad things happening in the world - they are games, after all. Oklahoma State has been struck with disaster after disaster after disaster, and yet they keep on playing.
That's what sports are all about: a way for a community to come together, no matter the circumstance.