Remembering The 10

As the 10th anniversary nears of the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 people associated with the Oklahoma State basketball program, Jim Perry reflects on the loss of his nephew Will Hancock and what it means to his son, Chris Perry.

Twins, the world's greatest brother-in-law always said about us. "Identical." He was, as usual, off his wacky rocker. But the family resemblance was there. Easily enough seen.

By tertiary-level thinking, if indeed the two of us were similar in features, it is logical such would be the same regarding my son. Many times he has been called a "clone."

It's a burden I have given him to bear.

The relationship between William Ransom Hancock editions II and III was something to behold. That they chose roughly the same line of work made the bond even that much greater.

Funny. Humble. Entertaining. Musically talented. Wildly intelligent.

Such words easily could be used to describe the Hancock men.

As for the Perrys, not so much.

Well, at least not for the elder Perry. Humble, musical and intelligent seldom enter the same paragraph — much less sentence — when the subject matter is me.

****
Remarkably, almost unfathomably, I am getting a second chance. With apologies to Wolfe, I have gone home again.

My homecoming began two weeks ago inside one of the edifices that has become, for me, hallowed ground.

From my perch high up in the nose-bleed sections of Gallagher-Iba Arena, I observed an eerily familiar image on that famously familiar white maple floor. I watched the young man's posture and movements. I witnessed as he went about his newly mandated duties and began to learn the most rudimentary of ropes inside the broad world of sports media.

Never mind that his duties at the outset of what he hopes will become his life's calling were basic and menial. Never mind that he fluked his way into a paycheck from ESPN.

Never mind that he was a few slots down from the best seat in the house. He was in a revered place.

****
Gallagher Hall, as it was known before a name change to honor the legendary Oklahoma A&M men's basketball coach Henry Iba, long and gently has held my heart within its talons.

From my days as a high schooler, when my wrestling buddies and I would attend Cowboy events and sit what was then considered "way up high," it has been special to me.

During my days as an OSU student, it was the page upon which I began writing my personal thesis.

It was the place I learned to love and explore. From the damp, mustiness of its basement — few know track and field events have been contested in "the dungeon" — to the cramped offices of athletic department officials to the seats behind the teams to the seats at the scorer's table.

All became a part of me.

****
So it was with a strange mixture of pride and pain that I walked once again onto that maple floor on Jan. 30, 2001.

I looked into the faces of thousands of faithful OSU fans as we strode solemnly into the arena.

It was a different place than the one I had grown to love. Nearly doubled in size it was, thanks to what is nothing short of an architectural miracle. Spacious. Pristine.

Stunning.

But they did not come to Gallagher-Iba that day to cheer, the 10,000 or so who were in attendance.

They came to mourn. To pay respects. And, perhaps, to heal.

They came on the penultimate day of January 2001 not for a basketball game or wrestling match. Not for a commencement ceremony. Not for anything they ever dreamed they would see play out in that setting.

They came for a memorial service marking the plane crash that took the lives of 10 members of the OSU men's basketball program.

They came that day in pain.  

****
The last time I spoke to him was right there. On the night the new place opened up. On the night Jason Keep broke the backboard in an otherwise meaningless non-conference game against a meaningless, overmatched opponent.

He gave me a small shard of the glass from the backboard. He hugged me as we parted.

The last words I ever spoke to my nephew: "I love you."

Will Hancock had followed his father's footsteps — and my footsteps — onto that white maple floor. He, too, had become enraptured by the mystique of Gallagher-Iba.

On Tuesday, one week after a historical presidential inauguration that would so much have wowed him, hundreds will gather inside the marble memorial in the southwest corner of GIA. They will cover the place with flowers and trinkets. They will shed tears and embrace total strangers.

I will be there one night before. As has become my custom, I will not leave Gallagher-Iba without having sneaked away to the memorial, kissed the palm of my right hand and placed my hand upon his likeness.

****
Somehow, my next moment with my nephew will be different than any before it. Because when I watch Monday night's game — why, oh Destiny, must it be against the Sooners? — I will see him down there.

If Will Hancock, as his father always insisted, resembled me, the natural progression will be linked.

"When I see him down there, I see Will," his mother said to me as we walked away from the memorial.

Our son is of the precocious nature. Always has been. Always will be.

It is beyond cool that we witness him tracing the same steps that have become such a part of the family history.

He has done so at nobody's urging. He has done so because he, like his uncle, father and cousin, was given a gift. And a purpose.

Maybe we all are living vicariously. Maybe we are putting on him undue pressures. But maybe, just maybe, he's got the right genes.

William Ransom Hancock III died Jan. 27, 2001 on a snowy prairie near Denver, Colo.

He lives on in Chris Perry.

(Editor's Note: This column, written by Jim Perry, first appeared Jan. 24, 2009. It is being republished with Perry's permission.)


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