By Gene Lehmann
Special to The News
Approximately 18 years ago, a new women’s basketball coach hired on at Trinity Valley Community College and one of his first visits was to the Athens Daily Review newsroom so he could meet sports editor and Malakoff native Benny Rogers.
I edited the newspaper in the small East Texas town. I had divorced myself from sports coverage years earlier. As it turned out, Benny Rogers is the best sports editor in the state of Texas. I didn’t have to worry about it or involve myself in it.
But Benny was determined to engage me in the sports world he loved so much. He strolled to my office with a very tall, slender and friendly man that day. “Gene, meet Kurt Budke,” he said. “He’s coaching the women’s basketball team at TVCC.”
Through the next several years, Budke’s presence in the newsroom was frequent. The jokes, jocularity, ribbing and camaraderie between Benny and Kurt were shared easily if you were within earshot of Benny’s desk or if you dropped by to join in on the fun.
Budke was a wonderful man although, admittedly, I did not get to know him as well as Benny and the rest of the staff at Athens. He was genuine, forthright, steadfast, loyal, and possessed a demeanor that put you at ease and produced more than its fair share of profound belly laughs.
Budke would bring four national championships to TVCC in women’s basketball. It was inevitable he would move on and, of course, he did.
His next stop was Louisiana Tech but he always found time to drop in to see Benny when he was in Athens. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say Benny and his coaching friend found ways to see each other.
After a successful stint at Louisiana, Budke moved up to Oklahoma State University and worked his magic turning around the program with the help of a former TVCC hoopster who played for Budke on a national championship team, Miranda Serna. She was Budke’s assistant at OSU.
Benny covered all four national championship teams under Budke’s leadership, not just as sports editor but as his close friend.
Benny told reporters on Friday Budke established the Lady Cardinals as the nation’s premiere women’s junior college basketball program and that his achievements as a coach will never be matched.
“As sports editor at the Review, I had a front row seat to the greatness and success of his early career, Rogers said. “More importantly, I was blessed to establish a close friendship with him. We have lost a great coach and person. I will miss my friend,” his statement ended.
Today, Benny works in the public information office at TVCC. I happen to know Budke wanted Benny at OSU but it was too big a nut to crack getting the lifelong Texan to leave the state he loves, much less leave that beautiful area of East Texas where he has dedicated himself to covering student athletes for more than 30 years.
Of course, Budke left us far too suddenly in a plane crash Thursday evening.
There is a numbness that envelops you; a permanence far too real to fathom; a tragedy beyond words that transcends mere emotions.
Benny once told me he had featured more than 10,000 student athletes in the pages of the Athens Daily Review during his 27-year career.
Between Benny and Budke, so many lives of student athletes have been touched for the better it is cause for celebration in the same moment the passing of Budke brings emotional devastation.
Congratulations to the both of you, Benny and Kurt. At a time when unspeakable horrors are being published about the sports world, we merely have to look to the two of you to see the greatness of a coach and the greatest of a writer who helped so many while asking for so little in return.
Gene Lehmann is editor of The Ada News.