These OU fans packed the Palace in pink to support Venables’ wife

These OU fans packed the Palace in pink to support Venables’ wife

Mixing in a new accent with school colors, Sooner fans showed out in force Saturday in support of Julie Venables' ongoing battle with breast cancer.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Sep 3, 2023, 1:00pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Sep 3, 2023, 1:00pm CDT

NORMAN — Crimson, cream and … pink.

Those were the dominant colors in and around Owen Field when Oklahoma began its 2023 football season Saturday afternoon. Mixing in a new accent with the familiar school tones, Sooners fans showed out in force in support of Julie Venables and her ongoing battle with breast cancer. 

About 30 minutes before kickoff, Shelly and Brett Royal, Marc Rangel and Donnia Mason stood among the fans about to pack The Palace in pink, each there to let coach Brent Venables’ family know they are not alone in the fight.

“This is my 15th year here and all of my children were born here in Norman, Oklahoma,” Brent Venables said following the 73-0 win over Arkansas State. “I’m not surprised by the people of Oklahoma. The love. The support. The compassion. The loyalty. It’s second to none and we’re incredibly grateful.”

The cancer diagnosis came in mid-June. Venables’ head immediately returned to the winter of 2005 when his mother, Nancy Schumaker, died of cancer after his sixth season as OU’s defensive coordinator. 

While Julie underwent tests to determine the severity of the cancer, the family retreated to the sanctuary and shelter of their faith and the power of prayer.  

“She’s tough,” Venables has said of his wife. “She’s a honey badger.”

Prior to preseason camp, Venables revealed that Julie had undergone surgery in late July. He told reporters last week that additional treatment likely lies ahead.

“She’s doing good,” he said. “At some point in time here in the near future we’ll probably have to do some chemotherapy. But things have gone well up to this point, all things considered.”

Word traveled fast through Sooner Nation after Venables shared the news of Julie’s diagnosis during his foundation’s annual Ladies Clinic in July. A call for fans to wear pink for OU’s opener spread through social media.

When word reached Rangel in Kansas City, Missouri, he bought a pink suit.

Rangel goes by the name “Señor OU” on game day and can often be spotted by his Sooners sombrero. He’s a fixture at Tanner’s Bar and Grill, the OU pub in Kansas City. That fan group there raises scholarship funds annually to help send two local students to college in Norman.

Like the football ties between the 83,221 fans who made up the official attendance at Owen Field Saturday, cancer binds and touches us all. Decaled onto the left sleeve of the custom suit Rangel wore were the names of family members impacted by the disease. On the right, there was Julie Venables’ name.

The full ensemble — jacket, pants and tie — cost $75 and took two and half weeks to pull together. 

“It’s the OU family,” Rangel said. “I don’t know the coach personally. But we’re part of OU DNA. We’re here. Sooners supporting Sooners. It’s something to show that we’re behind them.”

Outside of McCasland Field House, Donnia Mason sat with a friend and a beer in a pink shirt with a message scribbled across the front: “No one fights alone”.

As a nurse, Donnia Mason (left) sees the battle families fight with cancer daily. (Eli Lederman/Sellout Crowd)

Mason lost her grandmother, Rosadawn Hillary, to lung cancer. Her life as a nurse exposes her to the battle families fight.

“I see a lot of it,” she said. “It’s good to have some people on your side and knowing they’re praying for you.”

The Royals learned about Saturday’s push for pink on Instagram and made the trip from Bartlesville. 

Shelly and Brett Royal, OU fans from Bartlesville, know the particular brand of fear and uncertainty that’s hung over Brent and Julie Venables’ family this summer. (Eli Lederman/Sellout Crowd)

Shelly Royal draws from the experience of watching a brother, Andy, die from colon cancer. She knows well the particular brand of fear and uncertainty hanging over the Venables family. 

“If the family sees this then we’ll have really done something,” she said. “It’s encouraging. It might make them smile or make them happy. That matters when you’re going through such a hard time.”

Indeed, at least one member of the Venables family took notice.

The myopia of a college football Saturday will send any coach onto the field in a state of tunnel vision. But somewhere along the way in the Sooners’ 73-0 win over Arkansas State, Venables took a moment to look into the stands. 

What he saw was the Palace packed in crimson, cream and pink. Love felt. Message received. 

“For us and for Julie there’s no question that this is an opportunity for us to be a blessing to a lot of people that are going through similar hardships or even worse,” Venables said afterward. “And there’s plenty that are a lot worse. So it helps you have a great appreciation. We’re incredibly grateful, but not surprised. And so that’s cool.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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