Tragedy to Legacy

The Missing Member of OU Men's Golf's 2014 Class

Just minutes after leaving the Charlie Coe Golf Center, Kyle Lewis knew he had to go back. He had an offer to become a Sooner and play collegiate golf – a lifelong goal – and he could not turn that down.

When he and his parents Marty and Kelly stopped to get gas at 7-Eleven on the corner of Constitution Avenue and Classen Boulevard, less than a mile from the golf facility, Kyle said he was ready to commit. So they turned around and he gave his word to OU head coach Ryan Hybl.

Kyle signed in November 2009, becoming the first member of Hybl and assistant coach Blake Smart’s inaugural recruiting class at OU. This season, Kyle would have been a part of a senior class that has made four straight NCAA Regional appearances, and is looking to secure a fourth trip to the NCAA Championships when it begins regional play Thursday.

But Kyle never had the chance to live that dream. He never got the chance to put on the Crimson and Cream, as tragedy struck just weeks before his move to Norman.

And yet, he is still a Sooner. Always.

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Nightmare

Kyle Lewis on July 26, 2010. He would pass away just hours later.

On July 26, 2010, Kyle played in the Oklahoma All-State golf tournament at Emerald Falls Golf Club in Broken Arrow. There, he was awarded the Jim Thorpe Boys Golfer of the Year trophy as the top golfer in the state. His mom Kelly was also at the event but drove a separate car.

After stopping in Tulsa at a Wendy’s to get something to eat and drink, Kyle and Kelly headed back to their hometown of Bethel, Okla., via the Turner Turnpike – Kyle in his dad’s pickup truck and Kelly in her car.

Between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Kyle’s car went off the road and under the overpass, with the top of the truck hitting the underside of the bridge.

Near Stroud, located about halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Kyle’s car went off the road and under the overpass, with the top of the truck hitting the underside of the bridge.

His parents do not know for sure what led to the accident, but Marty shares that Kyle passed a couple on a motorcycle who said that when they looked in the window, he was slumped over, indicating he may have fallen asleep or passed out due to the extreme heat that day.

Just a few minutes after the accident, Kelly came upon the scene. Stuck in traffic, which was backing up, she slowly reached the site and noticed something under the bridge. She remembers not initially being able to tell what it was, then she realized it was a vehicle and wondered how it got there.

Then, she recognized the vehicle as her husband’s.

“I had just passed it, and when I got around in front and looked in my rearview mirror, I saw the tag on the front of the pickup that said OU Sooners, and I knew it was Marty’s truck,” Kelly shares. “I pulled over and started screaming.”

From there, she got out of her vehicle and headed toward the accident.

“I started to walk back to him, and I just hit my knees,” Kelly says. “I just said to God, ‘He’s in your hands,’ because I could tell how bad it was.”

When she reached the vehicle, a man who was there informed her Kyle was still breathing, so she immediately went to her son, where she stayed for the last minutes of his life. He was unconscious but still alive. He was strapped into his seatbelt, and the truck was on its side.

“I grabbed his hand and was rubbing his little arm and talking to him and telling him we loved him,” Kelly recalls. “I said, ‘Just keep breathing, honey. Keep breathing.’ I heard ambulances, so I told him they were going to get him out and to keep breathing. I kept telling him we loved him.”

She only left Kyle’s side when a highway patrolman asked her to leave to move her car to a nearby McDonald’s and rest stop area. According to the report, the accident occurred at 5:36 p.m., and Kyle passed away at 5:45 p.m.

I grabbed his hand and was rubbing his little arm and talking to him and telling him we loved him.

I said, ‘Just keep breathing, honey.
Keep breathing.'

“Nine minutes, and I was there during those nine minutes,” Kelly says. “It amazes me.”

When Marty received the phone call from his wife telling him about the accident, he and their daughter Rachel headed to Stroud. On the way, Rachel made phone calls to start a prayer chain, spreading the word to the community. In the rest stop parking lot, Marty and Kelly saw one of Kyle’s junior golf friends, and he shared the info with members the golf community.

By the time the family returned home at 7:30 p.m., the house was full of people, including Kyle’s future coaches, Hybl and Smart.

“Marty called me to tell me about the wreck, and for me, shock set in,” Hybl recalls. “You don’t really know what to do. Nothing you’re going to say is going to help Marty or Kelly. It’s about trying to be there for them, so I immediately got in my car and picked up Blake and we went to their house.”

All-Around Great Guy

Kyle was so much. He was a golfer and a basketball player. He was a son and a friend. He was funny and a fighter.

“Everyone wanted to be around him,” Kelly says. “He was fun to be around and he treated people right and kind and made them a part of everything.”

Kyle was a funny kid who wanted to make everyone smile and laugh, his mom says. Following Kyle’s passing, people shared stories with his parents that made them realize he was even funnier at school than they had realized.

Once, Kyle ate a sundae off of a kid’s head with no utensils during a youth group contest. During a student council meeting, the group was stressed because of some deadlines they had coming up, so Kyle walked across the gym, jumped up, grabbed the goal and hung upside down off the rim to lighten the atmosphere. For a student council skit, he once acted like he was playing a guitar, even though he had no idea how to do so. When the group went to visit nursing homes during Christmas time, Kyle dressed up as Santa Claus.

“The kids at school all loved him from what we understand,” Kelly says. “They wanted to be around him, and he was the kind of kid that even though he was kind of big man on campus you could say, he paid attention to the little guys. The kids that other kids didn’t pay attention to, Kyle would try to make them feel like they were a part, and we didn’t realize that until after.”

Kyle enjoyed working with younger golfers and often helped encourage them on the course, telling them to hang in there and keep working at it. He would share tips on what they could work on to improve.

He was also a fighter, who worked his way through various physical setbacks, from a jaw injury to a knee injury to a torn shoulder to two severely sprained ankles. Yet he never got down. He just stayed patient and kept working.

“If it was competitive time, then it was serious time. But outside of that, Kyle had a smile all the time and acted goofy just trying to make people laugh,” Kelly says.

A strong aspect of Kyle’s personality was his faith, which he wrote about in an essay his sophomore year of high school. In it, he talked about his religious beliefs as well as being a golfer and basketball player.

Kyle was also a talented basketball player and an outstanding student, who earned valedictorian honors at his high school. He was a strong leader who led by encouraging those around him.

“He wasn’t a perfect kid, but he was a really good kid that would have made his mark on OU probably not just because of golf but because of some of the other qualities that he had,” Marty says. “He would have contributed in a lot of different ways.”

What caught Hybl’s attention while recruiting Kyle was his grittiness and the way he fought for every shot. Despite being a little guy, Kyle was a great athlete who was very competitive, according to Hybl.

Before Hybl came to Norman in the summer of 2009, Kyle had not been contacted by OU but had other schools recruiting him heavily. But Kyle, who attended OU football games since he was in the third grade, wanted to hear from the Sooners. Once Hybl was hired and eventually started recruiting Kyle, the high schooler was really excited.

He wasn’t a perfect kid, but he was a really good kid that would have made his mark on OU probably not just because of golf but because of some of the other qualities that he had.

Of OU’s current roster, only one player met Kyle. Junior Charlie Saxon attended Cascia Hall Prep in Tulsa, Okla., competing in Class 3A against Kyle. The two met in junior golf when they were about 11 or 12 years old and started to get to know each other better once Saxon started high school.

Kyle was excited when Saxon committed to OU as well since it meant they would finally be teammates instead of opponents, Kelly says, and Saxon said he felt the same.

“It was exciting for me to maybe have the potential to play with him if I decided to come to OU,” Saxon says. “That eventually became a reality, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It was awesome because Kyle was a great buddy of mine in high school, and he was just a great dude and someone you’d love to have as your teammate. It thrilled me when we both committed to the same place.”

During junior golf, if Saxon looked at the pairing sheet and saw he was with Kyle, he would get excited because he knew it would be a fun day. He was also a hard worker whose passion for golf was apparent and he always supported the fellow golfers on the course.

“He was a great guy who you looked forward to being around,” Saxon shares. “I knew him in the golf course world well. I didn’t know him tremendously on a personal level because I was never really around him in that sense, but from the time I spent with him at the golf course, I was excited to get to know him more as a teammate in the future. He really deeply did care for people and wanted to be your friend. He really was one of the better guys you’ll meet.”

Remembered

Walking into the Charlie Coe Center, there are memories of Kyle scattered throughout the building – all signs of him being a Sooner. His golf bag and a photo sit inside the trophy case right inside the entryway. Inside Hybl’s office is Kyle’s locker plate in place on a cabinet.

In what would have been Kyle’s freshman season, the Sooners wore hats with his initials on the side. When they secured a record-setting victory at the Desert Shootout, the win was dedicated to Kyle, and the scorecard is still on display inside the facility.

The coaches also gave the Lewises a plaque that looks like the sign on his locker and includes “A Sooner for Life” along with his birthday and date he passed away inscribed on it. The sign hangs in Kyle’s room.

Those involved with the OU golf program think of Kyle often and make it clear that he is and will always be a part of the team. The Sooners still wear rubber bracelets in honor of Kyle that say, “One shot at a time,” a motto by which many of them have lived.

We are here and we have the opportunity to play a college sport that we love. One of our friends didn’t get that opportunity, so maybe we can kind of have him live through us in a way and we can go and represent ourselves and perform to the best of our ability knowing that we are doing it for Kyle out there.

“We are here and we have the opportunity to play a college sport that we love,” Saxon says. “One of our friends didn’t get that opportunity, so maybe we can kind of have him live through us in a way and we can go and represent ourselves and perform to the best of our ability knowing that we are doing it for Kyle out there.”

Both Hybl and Smart express that Kyle being their first recruit means a lot to them, and they were excited that he bought into their plans for OU and was ready to help in the program’s turnaround.

“He was the first kid to say yes when the program was struggling,” Smart says. “A big part of it is because he was going to be the right kid. He had great grades, a great work ethic and a great family. He was a local guy who was going to really want to carry the bag, because a lot of our guys aren’t necessarily Oklahomans or Sooner fans, so having guys like that who really want to carry the golf bag is a big deal.”

Kyle was a “total package guy,” who was the right guy to change the culture surrounding OU’s program and to bring a different ideal in terms of golf, grades and community, according to Smart.

“Emotionally, it was just a disaster (when Kyle passed),” Smart explains. “That was the first class, and the excitement level was really high. As a coach, you’re really looking forward to your second year when you bring in your own people and you really feel like that’s maybe when your program is going to start. Being that close (to Kyle being on campus), it was going from a really high going into getting everything started to just a really low moment.”

 

 

An Avenue for Healing

While those involved with the OU golf program have honored Kyle in a variety of ways, keeping his memory alive is about so much more. It is about making sure Marty and Kelly know they are always welcome and always members of the Sooner family.

Even though their son never made it to Norman, Marty and Kelly are still very much a part of the OU program, attending events like the Sooner Open in the fall and traveling to a few tournaments a year, including the Big 12 Championship for four straight years and the NCAA Championships for a third time this year if the team qualifies.

When something so tragic like that happens, we all try to cling on and hold onto everything we can. There was no way that we were not going to make him become part of this golf program.

“When something so tragic like that happens, we all try to cling on and hold onto everything we can,” Hybl says. “The members of the Lewis family are beautiful people who have huge hearts. There was no way that we were not going to make him become part of this golf program, even after the fact. It makes me sad knowing what he would have added to our program and team, but Marty and Kelly have done a tremendous job of being a rock for their own family and for our golf program.”

Being involved with a program and watching the team compete is helpful, both Marty and Kelly say. They also text Hybl to wish the team luck before every tournament and sometimes during tournaments – just another way to encourage and cope.

The golfers and coaches always take time to talk to Marty and Kelly at tournaments and greet them with big hugs, which Kelly says means a lot to them, especially since even though most of them did not know Kyle, they are still so sincere with their greetings.

“They’re our boys. That’s what we call them,” Marty says. “The names may change over the years, but they are always our boys.”

Another outlet Kelly uses to cope is what Marty refers to as “Kelly’s Quest.” Both Marty and Kelly play golf, and soon after Kyle passed away, Kelly sat down and wrote a list of the 63 golf courses where he had competed. Now, she’s in the midst of playing the courses, with just 19 left. Additionally, there is a scholarship fund in Kyle’s name, which was started the night he passed away.

“They’re great people and the kind of people you want around,” Smart says of Marty and Kelly. “They’re always wanting to give, never getting. Kyle was a Sooner, and we want them to be a part of the program for as long as they want.”

The constant support Marty and Kelly show to the current golfers is valued, and Saxon calls the couple “the greatest people in the world.”

Neither Michael Schoolcraft nor Eduardo Castiello, who are seniors on this year’s OU team and would have been in the same class as Kyle, had the chance to meet him. But both of them are appreciative of Marty and Kelly.

“It means a lot to me to see them watching me play,” Castiello says. “They cheer and motivate us like if each one of us was Kyle, and that is something very nice from them. Personally, seeing them makes me appreciate what matters the most. By the way Kyle’s parents are, I am sure that Kyle was a great person, and I know that he would probably be one of my best friends here at OU.”

Schoolcraft echoes that, saying Kyle’s parents are a big part of the program.

“They are so loving and support us just like they would have done with Kyle,” Schoolcraft says. “That shows a lot and shows what kind of people they really are. We are all a family and they are much a part of it.”

They’re our boys. That’s what we call them. The names may change over the years, but they are always our boys.

Even though this would have been Kyle’s final collegiate season, his parents plan to continue to attend golf tournaments and events and cheer on the Sooners. Just as they support the program, those at OU continue to support them as well.

Marty and Kelly have felt the support from not only the OU family – including President David L. Boren and head football coach Bob Stoops, who both sent condolences cards – but also the golf community as a whole.

“We will never be whole again, but you add everything together, and that helps a little bit,” Marty says. “We have a strong faith, and that, along with people like Ryan and Blake and the boys and a whole host of other folks help us make it. We’re not technically a part of the family, but they’ve made us part of the family.”

 

Always A Sooner

Kyle left his mark on many people he met – and even ones he did not.

In his home community, teenagers often tell Marty and Kelly they changed their lives and lived in stronger faith just in case it was their time to go. Two boys, who are now seniors, were recently baptized, one of them even wearing a t-shirt that had been made in Kyle’s memory.
Every year at the annual preseason golf retreat, Hybl shares Kyle’s story with his team.

Kyle will always be a Sooner, and we have him present on every shot.

“It’s still part of our legacy and our tradition is knowing the people who walked before us,” Hybl says. “Even these freshman next year that come in here, I’ll talk about Kyle early in the season and help them understand what it means – that this is a team and this is the University of Oklahoma. He would have been a special guy here, there’s no doubt about that.”

Thinking about Kyle helps the team keep golf and life in perspective while taking one shot at a time, Schoolcraft says. They also realize how lucky they are to be playing Division I golf and appreciate the opportunity, knowing Kyle would have given it his all every single day.

There is no denying that Kyle, even though he never walked the golf course for OU, has left a legacy and impact on the Sooner program for now and years to come.

“Kyle will always be a Sooner, and we have him present on every shot,” Castiello says.

Kyle Lewis. A Sooner forever.

 

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