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

Monday, January 6, 2014

“Thank you for sharing the story of the 75”

This past Christmas, I was given a copy of November Ever After. I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing the story of the 75. Thank you for sharing the story of Marshall University.

I graduated from Marshall in 2011, with a degree in journalism. This comes after a six-year stint as a military journalist. So, after reading the introduction, I was already hooked, as we (you and I) have that in common. Then, getting further into the book, I couldn't put it down.
I've seen the documentaries. I was at Marshall for the filming of We Are Marshall. I've flown in and out of Tri-State Airport. I worked as a reporter at WOWK-TV in Huntington, West Virginia and covered the Fountain Ceremony several times. I have interviewed Jack Lengyel (MU coach in the years immediately following the crash). I’ve visited Spring Hill Cemetery and have attended many Marshall football games.
I know the story. I know how it affected both the campus and the city. Being from Richmond, Virginia, I know both a former classmate and high school baseball coach of MU defensive lineman Tommy Zborill, one of the crash victims.
Your book, however, really put it over the top.
I had never heard of Ed Carter and Felix Jordan, the two “other” guys who didn't make the flight. I never knew about the “Homegoing” trip which was remarkable in and of itself.
I never knew that seven players on that flight came from two high schools. I never knew about the racial tensions that were ultimately squashed because of the crash. I never knew that Coach Tolley was such a tough coach.
I’ve learned more about the plane crash from your book than I ever did in my six years going to school and working in Huntington. I could go on for days about the things I learned, but I think you get the point.
I’m very glad that you decided, even if it was more than 40 years later, to share your experience and memories. It means a lot to me.

Warmest Regards,

Brooks Taylor
Public Relations and Marketing Specialist
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vivid memories of a New Jersey classmate

Quarterback Ted Shoebridge was a prized recruit coming out of high school.

Hello Craig,

Every year on November 14th I make it habit to scan the internet for articles about the Marshall plane crash.  I didn't go to Marshall, but my connection comes from being a teammate of quarterback Ted Shoebridge and kicker Marcelo Lajterman at Lyndhurst High School in New Jersey.  We played against running back
Art Harris who played at Passaic High School.  

Art was the best player I had ever played against. He was also a great baseball player, as was Ted.  One of the reasons Teddy chose Marshall was so that he could play baseball as well as football.  Lyndhurst was – and still is – a big baseball town. Art was the last of four straight All-State backs from Passaic ... one of the four was Jack Tatum (yes, the same Jack Tatum who was a menacing fixture in the secondary of those intimidating Oakland Raiders teams of the 1970s).

I remember that Saturday night (of the crash) like it was yesterday.  It was pouring rain, part of the same weather system that contributed to the crash.  I was at my fraternity house in Newark, New Jersey when one of my frat brothers told me that my parents had called and that I needed to come home immediately.  
Marcelo Lajterman

When I walked in, both my parents were sitting there crying and could barely tell me about the crash.  Teddy was one of my best friends and he was a hero to all of us.  He was simply the best athlete the town had ever produced.  

The shock and grief in our town was beyond anything any of us (of our age) had ever experienced.  

 I read on your blog about the racial confrontation at Marshall which occurred the day before the crash.  At that time in northern New Jersey, we were not far removed from the Newark riots.  Racial tensions were a reality in that area of the country as well as the south.

We (Teddy and Marcelo's teammates) went to Passaic to pay our respects to Art Harris's mother and sisters. Mrs. Harris also lost her husband in the crash.  Mrs. Harris was a German war bride who met Mr. Harris when he served in Germany during World War II.  

Seeing an interracial couple was certainly an oddity at that time, but as you state in your description of the situation after the crash, the racial differences didn't matter.  All that mattered was our shared grief and our common humanity.  I remember standing in Mrs. Harris's kitchen with Art's friends comforting each other and being together if only for that short period of time.

On the 25th anniversary of the crash, I was sitting in my living room watching college football, when all of a sudden a feature story about the crash came on.  There was a picture of the team, and Teddy, and the crash.  It overwhelmed me and I started sobbing. My wife walked into the room and asked me what had happened.  How do you explain that?

Before downloading your book onto my iPad, I thought I would have to read it with some trepidation. When I finished reading, I put a review on Amazon. I expected a detailed account of the plane crash.  What I got was so much more. Your description of your life on campus and with your friends rings so true.  I found your narrative of the joint funeral in Tuscaloosa (Alabama) especially moving. To imagine the impact of four lives lost in one community is heartbreaking.

At the end of our book you mention how every November you check to see what day the 14th falls on.  

Me too.

Thanks for writing November Ever After.

Roger A. Jacobsen
Attorney at law

Monday, November 11, 2013

Forty-something years later ... yes, it stll matters

Every year Marshall University pays homage to those who died in a fiery plane crash over four decades ago.

On the night of November 14, 1970, the school lost most of its varsity football team and coaching staff, along with administrators and a good number prominent people who were avid MU supporters. The Southern Airlines jet that crashed claimed the lives of seventy-five people. There were no survivors.

Herd QB Bob Harris in 1970.
Thursday of this week marks the 43rd year since the plane crash. Even though this happened such a long time ago, the memories remain and are just as clear today as they were on that dreadful night when a school and community were forced to deal with a tragedy of the highest degree. Given the amount of time that has passed, somebody will always ask this question:

Does it still matter?

It matters.
Very much.

Not only was I there at that time, but I wasn’t that far removed from the tragedy. As a former Marshall U. defensive back, I knew most of the players on that plane, which included my best friend Scottie Reese. I played two seasons and decided to walk away from the game the year before the crash. Looking back on it all, there’s a huge possibility that had I made a different decision, I would’ve been on the plane too.

There are many of us who are still around from back in the day. We remember the agony and confusion from those troubling days following the crash. But we also remember how the Thundering Herd rose from the ashes of devastation to eventually emerge as a highly successful program in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The beauty of the Marshall story is how the football program resurrected itself against seemingly insurmountable odds. The crash is still considered to be the worst air disaster in the history of American sports. Yet, from that tragedy, Marshall became one of the greatest comeback stories in all of college sports.

This story needs to be told. That’s what eventually prompted me to write the memoir November Ever After. It’s a story that’s timeless. It’s story that should be shared with future generations.

Since writing the memoir, I’ve learned how much this story resonates with young and old and how it has developed an attraction to football fans as well as those who have little or no interest in the game. The Marshall story is still relevant. That’s what I’ve discovered in my interactions with readers. It’s a story that’s worth preserving. In other words, it’s a story that still matters.

Please click on Video tab and watch "Tribute to the 75"