Cowboys Nation still grieving

Pistol Pete is weeping still, I am sure.

The Oklahoma State University family continues to grieve nearly a week after a senseless tragedy that cost the lives of four people — including a 2-year-old child — during the Cowboys’ homecoming parade this past Saturday.

Oklahoma State is my alma mater, so when anything happens in Stillwater, Okla. — good or bad — the expansive network of Cowboy Nation knows about it and celebrates together or grieves together.

During my years at Oklahoma State, 1975-1978, I can recall only one thing we would label as a tragedy, and that was when our star running back, Terry Miller, finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Earl Campbell in 1977. But that now doesn’t even come close to registering on the growing list of real tragedies that have hit the Stillwater campus.

On Jan. 27, 2001, members of the OSU men’s basketball program and local media were returning from a game in Colorado when their plane slammed into a pasture, killing all the passengers and pilots. The dead included two players, the director of basketball operations, media-relations staffers and a radio broadcast reporter.

On Nov. 17, 2011, women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna were among four killed when their plane went down in Arkansas during a recruiting trip.

And now, this.

Homecoming at any school, whether it be high school or college, is a big deal. At Oklahoma State, I can recall many of the week-long festivities that included some serious float-building by fraternities and sororities and dorms, all in preparation for the parade that ran its usual route between the campus and The Strip (the street lined with bars touting near-beer and plenty of live music). It is a time when the student body and the town came together to celebrate the school’s long history.

Cowboys football wasn’t all that good during my years at OSU. In Miller’s senior season, we did manage to tie for the Big Eight Conference championship and, more importantly, beat Oklahoma in the regular-season finale, also known as the Bedlam Series.

But generally speaking, we were not considered a top-notch team — even though we can boast of giving Jimmy Johnson his coaching start when he roamed the Cowboys’ sideline from 1979 to 1983.

Now, however, Oklahoma State is an annual Top 25 team. And we are currently No. 12 in the nation with a 7-0 record that has featured some pretty miraculous comebacks for wins.

So when Stillwater hosts a homecoming parade these days, the throng of people is nothing like when I was there almost 40 years ago. In fact, it is usually considered one of the largest homecoming crowds in the nation.

On Saturday, the jubilation from a homecoming crowd that swelled the streets around the southern edge of the OSU campus was suddenly shook to its core when a 25-year-old woman plowed her car through the sea of humanity before coming to rest next to a light pole.

As the scene continued to unfold, news began to sift through the crowd that four people — a former professor and his wife, a 2-year-old boy and a student from a nearby college — had been killed. Although different numbers have been released, up to 47 others were injured.

The woman, whom police suspect was under the influence of alcohol, has since been charged with four counts of second-degree murder.

Although the Cowboys’ homecoming game against Kansas was nearly postponed — and who could have blamed anyone for that decision? — it went on as scheduled just a couple of hours after the accident. And I am glad that it did, because it brought the Cowboys Nation even closer at a time when grieving and the start of healing was most needed.

Many schools have tragedies that mark their history, including:

— Aug. 16, 1856, in Florence, Ala., where the schoolmaster had a tame sparrow and had warned the students not to harm it, threatening death. One of the boys stepped on the bird and killed it; he was afraid to return to school but did so. After lessons, the master took the boy into a private room and strangled him to death. The boy’s father went to the school and shot the schoolmaster dead.

— April 2, 1921, in Syracuse, N.Y., when Professor Holmes Beckwith shot and killed dean J. Herman Wharton in his office at Syracuse University before committing suicide.

— May 15, 1954, in Chapel Hill when Putnam Davis Jr. was shot and killed during a fraternity house carnival at the Phi Delta Theta house at The University of North Carolina. William Joyner and Allen Long were shot and wounded during the exchange of gunfire in their room. The incident followed an all-night beer party. Long told police that, while the three were drinking beer at 7 a.m., Davis pulled out a gun and started shooting.

— Aug. 1, 1966, in Austin, Texas, when engineering student Charles Whitman, 25, got onto the observation deck of the school’s clock tower, from where he shot and killed 17 people and wounded 31 during a 96-minute shooting rampage in the University of Texas massacre. He had earlier murdered his wife and mother at their homes.

— April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, W.Va., when student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, shot and killed 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, and wounded another 17 students and faculty members in two separate attacks that day, before committing suicide. It was the deadliest attack by a lone gunman in U.S. history.

This week, it is the Oklahoma State family that needs your thoughts and heartfelt prayers.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.