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I Miss You Nate

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(Q is a contributing writer to PFB and played high school hoops with Nate Fleming. The following is his personal take on this week).

The Ten.

That’s what they’re known as. If you mention, “the 10” in Stillwater or to an OSU student, alumnus, or fan they know exactly who you are speaking of:

Kendall Durfey
Bjorn Fahlstrom
Nate Fleming
William Hancock III
Daniel Lawson, Jr.
Brian Luinstra
Denver Mills
Pat Noyes
Bill Teegins
Jared Weiberg

Even if you never knew them, you somehow feel as if you did. In fact, most of us could probably list off those ten names without blinking. Those names have been branded on the hearts of every person who loves our university. We remember where we were when the news broke and the press conference that followed. The fact they’re no longer with us hurts and leaves an indelible OSU shaped hole in your heart. But for those who were fortunate enough to know them, the impact they had is that much deeper.

I’m one of those people. I played high school basketball with Nate Fleming at Edmond North. I use the word “played” extremely loosely. See, I was a year younger than Nate and was merely a bench warmer his senior year. So the playing part is more quantified by the number of times he abused me in practice. Nate didn’t come off the floor. As the coach you couldn’t afford to take him off the floor, despite the fact he wasn’t the most athletic player we had, nor the best shooter, and maybe not even the best passer. But he was our best leader, our best teammate, and our best basketball player. He was like a coach out there.

Edmond North was really good that year. Really good. We were ranked #1 in the state the majority of the year (that included a win over future Cowboy Terrence Crawford and McGuiness in the Tournament of Champions). This senior class was unbelievable. They had been groomed since before middle school for this one year of basketball. This one year where they would destroy everything in their path. And for pretty much the entire year they did. Then, on a Thursday night in March, in the first round of the Oklahoma 6A State tournament, what was supposed to be the first of a three night coronation for our team, and specifically for those seniors, hit a season ending snag. We played terribly. We missed easy shots, we turned the ball over way too much, we played poor defense and ultimately we lost to Sapulpa. In 32 minutes the dream of 15 high school boys was forever lost. But, thanks to a photograph the moments just after that game will forever be etched on my heart.

After we shook hands with the opposing team and made our way back to the locker room somehow I ended up next to Nate. Without even thinking I put my arm around him, I guess in some way hoping to console him. He followed suit by putting his arm around me. It ended up on the front page of the Edmond paper the next day. In that moment I was extremely disappointed. But, not nearly as much as he was. Not even close and you can see it on our faces. Everything Nate Fleming did he did 110%. Everything. That’s why I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I found out he was walking on at OSU.

Looking back at that photo (my mom got a hold of a copy of it from the paper after Nate passed away and it sits on my desk now), I guess I was trying to do what Nate had been doing for me all year, be a good teammate. Nate always paid way more attention to me than my skills warranted. In practice he would always push me, correct me when I was doing something incorrectly or encourage me when I made a good play. In the locker room or on the bus Nate was always the one to make me feel a part of the team. It didn’t matter to him that I was the 14th out of 15 guys or that I wouldn’t score a point that entire season. He always made me feel as though I was just as important to our success as he was, even though that certainly wasn’t the case.

I had been looking up to Nate Fleming since the 6th grade. He was good at everything he did. He did extremely well in school, he was great at sports (he was one of the best tennis players in the state throughout high school), he sang and played guitar and everyone wanted to be around him. So, needless to say every word he said to me resonated in my basketball, social and academic conscience…in that order. I never spent any real time with Nate away from basketball. It didn’t matter. Ten years after his passing, I don’t really care that we lost that playoff game or that we didn’t win the state championship. It’s disappointing sure, but more important to me now is the time I got to spend with Nate Fleming and how he impacted my life then and still does even now in a tremendous way.

I remember going to a couple of games at GIA, one of which he got to play in, and seeing him run out through the smoke for warm-ups. He didn’t know I was there, but I was so proud of him; proud to know him, to have been his teammate and grateful that he had taken such an interest in me. On our way back from Denver a few years ago my family found the crash site and memorial in Colorado and we remembered. Every time I go into GIA, even to this day, whether it’s for a basketball game or a wrestling match or graduation or even a concert I look at that banner where my teammate’s name hangs with nine others and I remember. When I workout I don’t do 10 reps or 12, as most people would. No, instead I choose to do 11 (that was Nate’s number) and I remember. I remember the joy that existed in Nate’s life. He was full of joy, full of passion, full of hope, full of confidence and full of grace. He was always smiling. He was and continues to be someone I look up to. I’m grateful for the days I had with him and grateful for the day when I’ll see him again.

Mine is just one story; one story about one of ten men. I know there are countless other stories about Nate and the nine other sons, husbands, and fathers who were tragically taken ten years ago. Their families remain and are taxed with continuing to move forward. I hope they find some comfort, no matter how big or small, in knowing that many people who love OSU think of their loved ones often. I challenge you the next time you’re driving to/from Denver on I-70 to stop at the memorial and remember. The next time you’re in GIA stop at the memorial where they are honored or look up to the rafters where their names reside and remember. If you knew them remember what they mean to you. If you didn’t, remember what they mean to those who knew and loved them and then remember those in your life whom you love and cherish.

I miss you, Nate.