Monday, August 11, 2014

A "must read" for sports fans and media junkies

The horrific plane crash that killed most of Marshall University’s football team on November 14, 1970 is well known and will always be a fascinating part of college sports history. But what’s been revealed up until now contains a number of missing links.
Sports writer Craig T. Greenlee’s memoir November Ever After fills that void. The author has a unique connection to this story as a former teammate who knew most of the players who were passengers on the fatal flight.
Greenlee’s book delivers the details that only a seasoned journalist could dig up, and with the reverence that only someone personally touched by the tragedy could provide.
A number of facts about the Marshall story have been curiously left out in other media portrayals. A few examples include:
• The plane crash more than likely averted what could have been a full-scale race riot on the MU campus.
• Ed Carter, a former Marshall player who missed the trip, started an evangelical ministry as a result of him not being on that plane. Carter’s global ministry is still going strong today.
• Star running back Art Harris spoke frequently about death to his girlfriend Janice Cooley in the days leading up to the crash. Cooley confides to readers about how she has coped from the night of the crash until now.
• Approximately 60 Marshall students rode a chartered bus to attend the funeral services of seven of the players who perished. The group went on an emotionally-draining four-and-half day journey that covered over 1,500 miles.
The above is just a sampling; Greenlee covers much, much more.
Credit must be given to the media that have done their part in keeping the spirit of the Marshall football tragedy alive. But those versions are incomplete. Read November Ever After and get the raw, humbling story as told by those who were there.
What people are saying about November Ever After: “I was there. I saw the plane go down. This book was very real to me. Well written, factual. I learned some things I never knew. I’m glad I read it.” Karen Hauk – Amazon reviewer

Monday, July 14, 2014

Marshall story fascinates graduate filmmaker

My name is Katie Thompson and I am a graduate student in the Institute for Documentary Filmmaking at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. As part of our program, we were assigned a large project where we had to take a historical event with historical film footage – and on paper – produce a shooting script that detailed every shot and scene for a 5-minute film. This may sound easy, but I assure you it was not.

Most of my life growing up, I heard family stories about how my Uncle Billy was recruited to play football for Marshall University, but he chose not to go to college. Instead, he launched his own business, which later became quite successful. Had he gone to Marshall and played football, he would have been on the team in 1970, the year of the plane crash.

These types of “sliding door” moments have always fascinated me so I have never forgotten my uncle's story. Years later, the big blockbuster film We Are Marshall came out. As a result, Marshall University and the crash became known by a new generation. I couldn't believe the story I heard as a youngster was up on the big screen with Matthew McConaughey cast in the lead role.

The drama of the Hollywood film was striking, but as with any story, I knew there was more to it. I knew my uncle's experience was just a teeny-tiny fraction compared to those people who were directly or indirectly impacted by this horrible event. So, when we got the large-project assignment, I decided to dig deeper and find a smaller, tighter, more personal point of view for my project.

To my surprise, a friend sent me some information about author Craig Greenlee, who wrote November Ever After, a memoir about the crash and its aftermath. Craig so kindly agreed to be interviewed and shared his wealth of knowledge, insight and personal experience regarding Marshall and the crash.

It was wild for me to hear that he was on the team and decided not to play that year. Craig’s best friend was killed in the crash and he even joined the team the following year when the program was rebuilding. I was honored to hear his stories and I could have listened for hours! I think this event in history was obviously horrible and tragic, but I also think there were parts of it where the community came together, which is inspiring as well.

Barriers of race, personal differences, or conflicts were temporarily put aside. It was a much needed effort for the school and community to pull together in the wake of having to deal with so much loss. My project presents just a tiny piece of this huge story. On a personal level, researching this project proved to be an experience that was both eye-opening and amazing.

It’s my sincere hope that through this project, I can help continue sharing the story and the legacy of Marshall University in a positive way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

So much more to memoir than football

The well-known story of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash goes far beyond the gridiron and the near-decimation of a program that found a way to survive a tragedy of the highest degree.

There are so many stories that have yet to be told about the night of November 14, 1970, when the plane carrying MU’s football team, coaches and supporters crashed on a hillside and exploded. There were no survivors among the 75 passengers on board. In other media accounts (books, documentaries, plus the movie We Are Marshall), much of the focus is on the chain of events from that night and the struggles that the school faced in rebuilding the football program.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But that doesn’t paint the complete picture. There’s something missing – the stories of those who were left behind. These are the folks who suffered immensely. These are the same people who were on hand to applaud one of the greatest comebacks in the history of college sports. The Thundering Herd went through some hard times in rebuilding, but eventually emerged as one of the winningest football programs in the nation.

That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the memoir November Ever After, which addresses the night of the crash, but it also takes an up-close and personal look at the lives of the people who were connected to the school and the football program at the time of tragedy. Even though the memoir was first published about two-and-half years ago, it continues to get five-star reviews on Amazon.

November Ever After is a story whose time has come. And I’m discovering that the story has many more elements to it than I ever imagined. I’ve come across so much new information from reputable sources that I’ve decided to write a sequel. I’ll provide more details about that in the coming months.

In talking to folks at book signings and during media interviews, it’s always apparent that this story is timeless. It has staying power. There’s huge interest and it has nothing to do with age, race or gender.

In my mind, the memoir covers a wide range of emotions. In recalling the tone of the conversations I had with people I interviewed (for the book), that sentiment comes across loud and clear. Certainly it’s a story about a painful and tragic event, but it’s also about hope, dogged persistence and resiliency.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Disabled athletes: a different perspective

Alabama has one of the top men;s wheelchair basketball teams in the country.
Editor's Note: Here's a story that's vastly different from what's normally published in this blog. But that's OK. Any story that educates, enlightens and inspires is worthy for public consumption. Disabled athletes are just as passionate and just as dedicated to their sport as their abled-bodied counterparts. After reading this article, it's quite possible that you'll view disabled athletes in a much different light than you used to.

Dalton Herendeen is an amputee who swims for U of Indy
A little over a year ago, the U.S. Department of Education issued policy guidelines that sparked a renewed thrust to create and expand opportunities for disabled athletes. Activists for the rights of the disabled applaud the directive as a game changer that will have the same impact for disabled athletes as Title IX did for women’s sports .....

Want to know more? Just click on the link below

Monday, March 3, 2014

Former Marshall DB's memoir: "a marvelous story"

The author during his college football-playing days at Marshall University.
"This book is history. The folks featured in the memoir actually lived through it all and collectively, they have a marvelous story to tell. As for impact, the answer is a resounding 'yes.' Those who have yet to read the book will discover that there's a lot more to this story than what they already know. Sure, football is the central focus, but there's so much more and it transcends what's been revealed in other works (books, documentaries and the movie)."

Craig T. Greenlee
"November Ever After" 

Excerpt of Greenlee's interview that was published on Cheryl Holloway's blog 
during Black History Month.

Friday, February 7, 2014

“Event forged indelible bond among all of us …”

Editor's Note: Here's a reader response to the blog entry “Vivid Memories of a New Jersey classmate” which ran in December.

In the year 2000, I attended the screening of the Ashes to Glory documentary about the Marshall University plane crash of 1970 in Huntington, West Virginia.

Prior to the screening, there was a memorial service held at First Baptist, the church that several of the players who died attended. My friends Nate Ruffin and Reggie Oliver (former players) along with Mickey Jackson (MU assistant coach in early 1970s) were there and I also met the brother of one of the crash victims, Marcel Lajterman.

Afterwards at another reception, I saw Dennis Foley, who also played football, but quit the team before the crash. Dennis and Marcel were roommates at the South Hall dormitory where I was a resident adviser. When I introduced Dennis to Marcel’s brother, it was overwhelming for both. Dennis had not spoken much about that experience to anyone.

The film had a lot of impact. In one sequence, I spotted my sister (Angela Dodson) on camera. As a writer for the student newspaper at that time, she was among the media that covered the press conference when Joe McMullen was introduced as Marshall’s new athletics director in February 1971, three months after the crash.

Also in the film, Felix Jordan was incorrectly identified as Craig Greenlee because Felix had the same uniform number that Craig had the year before the crash. Craig played two seasons and left the team in 1969.

Coincidentally, I recently received a phone call from Evangelist Ed Carter, a player who missed the fatal flight because he went home to Texas for his father’s funeral. We spoke for over an hour about our friends and our experiences at Marshall. That event has forged an indelible bond among all of us who were affected by the tragedy.

I read Les Hicks’s book Against All Odds and attended his book signing at Marshall's Homecoming in October 2013. Craig had a book signing two years earlier when his memoir November Ever After was published. We are all proud of the Nate Ruffin Lounge which is part of the new Alumni Center on the Marshall campus. There is also a bust of Nate and some of his memorabilia that was donated by his wife Sharon to display there.

As one who traveled with the “Homegoing Caravan,” I was elated to hear that Tuscaloosa, Alabama now has a permanent memorial exhibit which honors the four Marshall players from Tuscaloosa who died. None of us who attended the joint funeral for Joe Hood, Freddie Wilson, Robert Vanhorn and Larry Sanders will ever forget that day.

Craig has done a great service to amplify this story in the backdrop of the national notoriety that Marshall has enjoyed in recent years because of its gridiron success and the movie We Are Marshall.

-William Dodson
Urban Church Watch