Oklahoma State team, community mourn losses
Updated: Monday January 29, 2001 1:50 AM
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma State coaches and players stayed out of sight Sunday, one day after two reserve players and eight other members of the basketball team's traveling party died in a plane crash in Colorado.
It was unlikely that coach Eddie Sutton would meet with the media, sports information director Steve Buzzard said at a briefing in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Sutton was in meetings with athletic director Terry Don Phillips much of the morning.
"This is a day for, uh ...," Buzzard said, his voice trailing off. "There's a lot of pain."
Sutton had stayed in his office until after 1 a.m. Sunday, notifying family members and meeting with his grieving players.
"It was tough on him," said Tom Dirato, OSU's director of radio and television who was with Sutton most of Saturday night. "There's none of us who could imagine what it would be like getting on the phone and calling a father, a mother, an uncle or just people that you know and say, 'What you heard is correct, he didn't survive.'
"It took a toll on him."
Reserve players Dan Lawson and Nate Fleming died when the Beechcraft King Air 200 went down in a field 40 miles east of Denver. The crash also killed the team's play-by-play announcer, its sports information director, a radio engineer, two managers, the team's administrative assistant and the two pilots.
Officials did schedule a memorial service for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena as a "special time of prayer and a time of thanks, and an uplifting event," Buzzard told reporters Sunday afternoon at a news conference.
Buzzard also responded to questions about aircraft, including who provided them.
"All three aircraft that were used on the trip were private and they were provided to the university by the alumni and businessmen," Buzzard said. The plane that crashed was provided by Dick Bogert of Oklahoma City, he said.
Harry Birdwell, vice president of business and external relations at Oklahoma State, said college officials continually review the best ways to transport athletic teams to and from venues.
"I assure you we're going to leave no stone unturned in terms of review of our policies to be sure that our student athletes and staff and officials of the university are as safe as they can possibly be," Birdwell said. "We will do a complete review of our policies and re-evaluate the standards of safety that just have to be part of any activity such as this."
On campus, when students would normally be getting ready to holler at a television during the Super Bowl, the mood was gloomy and subdued. Many of them awoke to have the tragedy of the night before hit them again.
Students holding umbrellas trudged through puddles on campus, still trying not to believe. At Eskimo Joes, a usually rowdy off-campus hangout, a student tried not to cry as she seated the few customers who came in this slow Sunday morning. And in a bagel shop, the usual crowd of customers wasn't laughing.
"Everyone is pretty melancholy," said freshman Chris Shumake. "They're just walking around like zombies, sort of. You hear of airplane crashes like in Europe and over seas, but you never think of it hitting home."
Justin Battista, a freshman walking in the rain toward Sunday morning Mass, said many students were still in shock.
"It's like part of the school died," he said.
The university made counselors available to the players staff members. Plans were being made for a memorial service that Buzzard said would be held in Gallagher-Iba Arena, perhaps on Thursday.
The Big 12 announced Sunday that Oklahoma State's game Tuesday at Texas Tech had been cancelled. Buzzard said he had heard no talk of perhaps canceling the rest of the season.
"I know that coach Sutton, obviously, was concerned about the game Tuesday night," he said. "I'm not putting words in his mouth, but the impression that I get from that end is that the season will be finished."
A three-person team from Oklahoma State left for Colorado on Sunday to work with local authorities and assist family members, Buzzard said. The group included university vice president David Bosserman, a member of the Oklahoma State University police department, and Carter Mattson, special assistant to Phillips.
Buzzard said he expected the players, who left Sutton's office stunned in in some cases crying Saturday night, would spend the day secluded.
"I would be remiss to tell you I know what they're doing today because it's a private time," he said. "They were together last night for most of the night and I would guess they'd be together today."
Buzzard said Sunday was in some respects more difficult than Saturday night because more relatives of the victims were arriving in town.
"Now you're starting to see families and family members come in and you see the hurt in their eyes and on their faces. That's very difficult," he said.
"This is a great loss. You just pour your hearts and your prayers to those family members who have lost people that are so important to them and to us."
Dirato, who does color commentary on the radio broadcasts, considered himself fortunate because he originally was supposed to return from Colorado on the plane that went down. He had flown from Stillwater on the plane, but said Sutton noticed he was hobbled by a bad back and set it up for Dirato to fly home on one of the two small jets the team used.
When his plane arrived in Stillwater on Saturday night, Dirato said the pilot told them that the King Air had to make a stop because of mechanical problems.
"Eddie said, 'Aren't you glad you were on this one?'" Dirato said. "Then I just got in the car and went home."