The morning began just as any other gameday had this year. I overslept from being up too late the night before and I was pressed for a shower before riding my bike the mile from my house to the stadium. At 10:30am, I was in the Athletic Marketing office, getting a pre-game pump up speech from Matt Fletcher with the other interns. It was all just another exciting gameday. We began setting up the Pistol Pete Partners block party just North of the stadium. By 11 a.m., phones were being passed around as helicopters flew in and police cars flew through a closed off Hall of Fame. Something was wrong three blocks away and we barely even knew it.
When the word finally got through to us, I began to realize my phone was going off. In all the commotion of getting the block party set up, I never felt it vibrating in my pocket. It was then I realized the scale of the incident. I had three missed calls, five new texts with every single group chat I belonged to exploding to see where everyone was. It was in one of those chats that I learned how large this catastrophe was. In that moment, I looked down the street to see flashing lights and another set of helicopters arriving. In that moment, I wanted to run down the street and help in anyway I could. Two summers as a first responder for a mountaineering base and a third operating the base radio station, I knew I could do something but the looks in my coworkers faces were yearning for a sense of normalcy. They just wanted the day to go on like any other. So I did my best to carry on for the kids and maintain their blissful ignorance while news helicopters hovered nearby. I didn't know how to respond to the request from the Paddle People President to help him write a tweet showing our support. I didn't know how to carry on at work. The day just seemed...hollow. Like the homecoming energy was whisked away and the only reason things continued was to prop up a false reality.
That was before I knew of what went into keeping the game on and of what events took place prior to kickoff. I was unaware that the band did not play during the Walk and that the team huddled in prayer immediately after taking the field. Both moves showed a truly touching piece of solemnity on a chaotic day. I got into the stadium right at the end of the first quarter, just in time to see Miketavius Jones block the punt and return it for a score. I took my place on the North wall with the Paddle People and quickly got into our rotation in my usual spot right next to the President. I texted my parents letting them know I was paddling. They were in town for the game and in their usual spot several sections behind me. They knew I was at the stadium all morning and I knew they weren't at the parade so neither of us were too worried about the other. That was probably my only bright side to the day.
I found myself slipping into the normal gameday routine with my friends until Larry Reece's booming voice reminded the students to call home and let their parents know they were safe. That brought my propped up reality crashing down and it wasn't coming back. I left the game midway through the 4th quarter so I could get to my dinner shift at MoJo's in time to change and get settled in for the post-game rush. I left work at 10:30 and rode my bike home. At the corner of Hall of Fame and Main, it sunk in. I felt it. All of it. I heard the screams and felt the anguish. My heart ached so bad that even 3 days later, I want to actively avoid going through the intersection.
While the sights and sounds of the community trying to grasp onto the new reality can seem overwhelming, so can the cries of support. The OU band flew an OSU flag before their Homecoming game, the OU choir closed their sunday concert with the OSU Alma Mater, the Texas clock tower sang it as well, Virginia Tech is having students sign a banner of support, Texas Tech will observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims before this weekend's game, users on /r/CFB are changing their flairs to OSU, and fans from across the Big 12 and the nation have been tweeting out their support. It was a truly humbling experience to witness. The candlelit vigil held on campus may have been one of the most painfully beautiful scenes OSU has ever seen.
I'm sure at this point you're wondering, "Well what is this doing on a sports blog?" Its a very fair question because the tragedy that struck the Stillwater and Oklahoma State communities didn't have a whole lot to do with sports as much as it did the community. However, a football game was played afterwards. The Cowboys trumped the Kansas Jayhawks in a game that no one really wanted to play. But the game was played and it was the first step down a long road of recovery for the community.
That is the beauty of sports.
Sports have the power to bring entire communities together. From the smallest high schools to the largest nations, sports are our rallying points. They provide us a common creed and a common symbol. They are a physical manifestation of our shared traits and ideals that unite us in cathedrals of sound and fury. Its passion and pageantry is unrivaled and its ability to bring people together is even more so.
Oklahoma State University has been in this heartbreaking tragedy before and we can only pray that it doesn't happen again. For now, that's all we can do. Pray for the victims and their families as well as the people who are still coping with what has happened. Pray for Adacia Chambers and her family during these troubling times; that they may seek and find forgiveness. Pray for the coaches and athletes who carry the aspirations of their fans with them during these heavy moments. Once you're done with your prayers, find the people you love and tell them how much you love them. If there's anything this past weekend has shown us, it's that life can be fleeting and every moment should be treasured. It's also shown us that no matter what happens, we will always and forever remain Loyal, True, and Stillwater Strong.
To learn more about how you can help the victims, click here.