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Oklahoma State mourns 'special' backers, basketball coaches killed in crash

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:42 PM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The school president says the late coaches would have encouraged the mourners
  • The interim basketball head coach says, "These people have had a huge impact"
  • "We have been here before," an OSU administrator says, referring to a 2001 crash
  • Besides the coaches, an ex-state senator and his wife died in last week's crash

(CNN) -- Family, friends, faculty and students packed Oklahoma State University's gym on Monday, remembering women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna in the place they toiled for years before dying in a plane crash last week.

"We're in this place because they loved this place," Oklahoma State administrator Larry Reece said during the memorial service at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater for Budke, Serna and two others killed in the Thursday crash.

Former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula, also died in the crash and were honored Monday.

The coaches were traveling to Arkansas for a recruiting visit when the Piper Cherokee PA-28 they were flying in crashed under "unknown circumstances" in a wooded area about four miles south of Perryville, Arkansas, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The university canceled classes around the service so students could attend. It also was open to the public.

Jim Littell, the team's associate head coach who will take over as interim head coach, was among those who spoke at Monday's memorial event about the victims.

"These people have had a huge impact all around the country," Littell said. "And today, we have a chance to celebrate the lives of these four very special people."

University officials credited Budke for turning around the school's women's basketball program, culminating with a top-10 national ranking and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Married with three children, he was in his seventh season with the school.

The crash was the second fatal plane crash to strike the Cowboys basketball program in nearly 11 years.

Ten people, eight of them associated with the university's men's basketball program, died when their aircraft crashed in Colorado during a snowstorm on January 28, 2001.

"We have been here before," Reece acknowledged Monday. "It doesn't seem fair that a university should go through this twice."

Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis closed the memorial by imagining what Budke and Serna might have told those gathered Monday. He predicted they would have tried to lift people up, urging them to succeed in life mindful of all they had taught them.

"If you believe in what we taught you, you can win," Hargis said. "We won't be on the court with you, but you can do it yourself."

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