Illinois State Redbird Remembrance |
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“In reflecting on tonight, I was reflecting on a couple of questions that happened in this arena. How many times have we gathered in this arena to lead our Redbirds to victory? How many times have these walls echoed our cheers of joy over a long 3-pointer or vocal opinions on a referee’s bad call? How many times have we high-fived the people standing next to us after a last-second win or shook our collective heads after a victory somehow slipped away?

For many of us, the answers can best be found in the hundreds to thousands of long hours and breathtaking seconds. Tonight we gather under completely different circumstances, but for the very same reasons to support our Redbirds and each other. We are a family and that is what families do. Indeed, that is what Redbirds do. We support each other.

During February’s Founders Day Bell Ringing Ceremony, not long ago, I commented that this past year is like a microcosm of our history. We have celebrated times of unrivaled success and endured periods of overwhelming challenge. We have raised our fists in triumph and we have wept in sorrow. Tonight our heads are bowed as we mourn the untimely passing of two amazing Redbirds and of five local and loyal Redbird friends.

I have talked to so many people and received hundreds of emails and texts over the past 36 hours from Florida to California to New York and back. Most of those individuals knew one or all of the men who were on that plane. The comment I heard again and again was how each and every one of those individuals was truly a special person. Their deaths are a tragic loss to their families, to Illinois State University and our entire community. My wife, Marlene, is with us tonight. Our prayers and sympathies for the entire Illinois State community go out to the families.

For our athletics department, for our university and for our community, tonight is a night of grieving, but it is also a night of caring, sharing and a lot of hugs. It is also a night of resilience for a close Illinois State family.

While tomorrow may still dawn with some sadness, which at this point probably is not a choice. The day after tomorrow we will begin to be able to make some choices. We made a choice to be here tonight. We made a choice to support each other. We made a choice for many of us to become employees of this University to teach and provide support for this University. The students made a choice to enroll here and the players made a choice to play here. Tomorrow …. and the day after that …. and the day after that … and the day after that, we will be able to make some sense of other important choices.

I think that choice needs to be to honor the legacy of these young men who left us way too early. To honor their legacy and make a choice that we will charge on and be the best we know how to be as students, as staff, and as a community.

Tomorrow will also be a dawn of hope. Let’s support each other in that hope and move onward and upward. May God bless all of you.”

Larry Dietz, University President, at memorial service

“The Redbird family and the Bloomington-Normal community has suffered a terrible loss today.

Aaron Leetch was a shining star in this business. He had a gift in dealing with people and building relationships. Our external units were making incredible progress under his leadership. Torrey Ward was a big part of the success taking place with our men’s basketball program. He had a big personality, was a talented coach and recruiter, and our fans loved him.

Andy Butler, Terry Stralow, Jason Jones, Scott Bittner and Tom Hileman were Redbird guys. Every school has these guys: donors, fans, and supporters who are always there when needed. They were great men and good community partners.

Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those involved. There is no play in the playbook for times like these. We will miss Aaron and Torrey deeply, and we will support their families in any way that we can. To honor their individual and collective legacies, we will move the Redbirds and our community forward.”

Larry Lyons, Director of Athletics Statement on April 7, 2015