When you are recruited to play college basketball these days, the university welcomes you into the family. Though we never called it that during early infancy of the women’s game, we knew our college team had our back. A loyalty to Illinois State University basketball remains imprinted in my soul. Even though I did not personally know the victims of the tragic plane crash outside of Bloomington, my heart mourned for the lives lost – an ISU men’s basketball Associate Head Coach, Torrey Ward, a Deputy Director of Athletics, Aaron Leetch, and alumni Terry Stralow ’74 (co-owner of Pub II in Normal), Andy Butler ’96, and Jason Jones, M.S. ’93; and former student Scott Bittner.
“All seven men who were on board the plane, including pilot Thomas Hileman, were “Redbird guys,” said Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86.
How can I feel connected to a university of over 20,000 when I haven’t lived in the state or even the country for decades? The memories of the people at that place, where interstate 74, 59, and 39 intersect in the Corn Belt, left a lasting impression.
When I played in the late 70s, we had three women’s teams, a platoon of peeps to lean on in hard times. Coaches like Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, and Melinda Fischer invested so much in me, not only as a player but also as a person, and Schnied (Kathy Schniedwind) taped me up for every battle in Horton Fieldhouse. Nor will I forget the teammates like Slate, Von, Char, Guppy, Apple, Woody and others or those who followed after me to leave their own mark like Bethie, Bos, and Vickie.
In addition to teammates, five friends called “the family” rented a townhouse together. We pulled all nighters to prepare for finals, wet our whistle at the ol’ Pub II watering hole and scarfed down Avanti’s pizzas.
Whenever I am back in the Chicago ‘burbs, we reunite. Our “cousins” another cohort of ISU alumni meet up annually. My ol’roomies from Dunn Barton Hall still wish me happy birthday every year.
Back then I had my own sorority – a gym full of sisters – including my own biological ones, also ISU grads. During my senior year my middle sister shared our house; my baby sister shared my Redbird locker.
When the news about that the fatal return flight from the Final Four celebration in Indianapolis reached Switzerland, I felt sick to my stomach.
After every tragedy we are reminded how fleeting life is. Our paths may only cross once, but the impact we have on others is everlasting.
In light of that, I wanted to give a shout out to my ISU family to thank you for your support, for keeping the ties across the miles, for having my back.
Everyone is vulnerable. Every. One. Every. Day. Always.
To those folks in the Bloomington-Normal area and the ISU community who grieve for their lost loved ones, I offer my deepest sympathy. It is not enough. No, I never met you, but I know where you come from and what you represent.
Your loss is a loss for all Redbirds.
We are family.