Ask anyone who knew him, they will tell you the man in the bright orange blazer was more than a coach, he was an inspiration to his team, his family and the entire Oklahoma State community.
Kurt Budke's legend will undoubtedly live in through the program he helped establish, as well as through the lives of those he coached, mentored and befriended.
The lively coach, father, husband and friend was killed Thursday in a plane crash while returning from a recruiting trip in Arkansas. Budke, along with assistant Miranda Serna, pilot Olin Bransetter and his wife Paula all perished when the Piper PA-28 Cherokee plane they were flying in crashed into the top of a ridge in the Ouachita Mountains Thursday afternoon.
Despite the tragedy, it is Budke's dedication and love for the game that has helped the OSU women's basketball team to thrive over the last seven years, and that love and dedication will never be forgotten.
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Budke took over the struggling women's basketball program in March of 2005 after coaching for 12 seasons at Allen County Community College in Kansas, Trinity Valley Community College in Texas and at Louisiana Tech.
The team endured a winless 0-16 inaugural season under Budke in 2006-06, but just two years later the Cowgirls were catapulted into the national scene with an NCAA Sweet Sixteen birth.
That same year the Cowgirls upset rival and sixth-ranked Oklahoma for the first time in nine years after a 45-point game from Andrea Riley.
During the 2009-10 season the Cowgirls won 24 games including a school-record six victories against Top 25 teams. For the first time ever that season the team achieved a top-10 national ranking and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"Seven years ago when we walked through these doors and coach walked into the press conference, his zeal for Oklahoma State was uncomparable. He loved this place and loved coming in here every day," said OSU interim head coach Jim Littell.
Countless player and coaches describe Budke as one of the most committed, dedicated and spirited people they had ever met. And his influence into their lives wasn't just in the game of basketball, it was so much more.
"Coach Budke always told us that in our program and in life it was God first, family second and basketball third," said former player Megan Byford.
"Everybody here loved the man. He was far more than just a basketball coach. Talk about a loving husband and tremendous dad," added Littell. "Every day we would bring a recruit in, he would walk them on the court and say ‘Look at this place. Look at this place. I LOVE this place', and he meant it from the heart."
As head coach of the Cowgirls, Budke boasted an all-time record of 112-83. His team was 1-0 so far this season after a convincing victory over Rice Sunday.
Another key to the Cowgirls success under Budke came from Miranda Serna.
Serna worked with Budke at Louisiana Tech and came to OSU when Budke moved to serve in the same capacities as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
"Coach Serna was a tireless worker and got those kids believing in her," said Littell.
Her immediate impact was an integral part of the resurgence of the women's team, especially from a recruiting standpoint. As a player, the Guadalupita, N.M. native helped lead Trinity Valley Community College to the NJCAA national title in 1996 and finished her collegiate career at Houston.
"Our kids are totally devastated. They love coach Budke and love coach Serna. A lot of the reason they are here is because of those two people," said Littell. "Obviously they are hurting because we have lost two tremendous people from the OSU family."
A native of Salina, Kansas, Budke earned all-conference honors as a player at Barton County Junior College in 1981. He started coaching in 1984 as a graduate assistant at Washburn University before taking an assistant coaching position at Friends University.
Budke is survived by his wife Shelley (Balthazor) and three children: Sara, who is a student at OSU, Alex and Brett.
"He was a great basketball coach but he was a better husband and a better dad and a better friend," said Littell.
In light of the tragedy, Oklahoma State has cancelled both of the women's basketball games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday as well as the wrestling duals.
"I think all the people in this room and knew Coach Budke are better off for knowing him," said Littell. "He will not be forgotten, he will not be replaced and I love the man."