Saturday, December 31, 2011

Newspaper made the right decision to run epitaph

 “The adjacent story quite obviously was written prior to the tragic air crash which took the lives of an undetermined number of Marshall University football players, coaches, athletic department personnel and fans. To have rewritten the story, to have pretended that the game 
had never been played, would have been a disservice to those who took part in it. 
Therefore, it is being presented in its entirety as an epitaph.”
Herald-Advertiser sports section
November 15, 1970

       There may have been some folks who had an issue with the Herald-Advertiser newspaper running the actual Marshall-East Carolina game story on its sports page the day after the plane crash. If there were people who did feel that way, they were wrong.
       On the front page of the section, there’s a boxed blurb positioned right above Ernie Salvatore’s sports column at the top left-hand portion of the page. This blurb, set in bold type, explained the newspaper’s reasoning for running the article as if there had been no plane crash (see enlarged quote above).
       No doubt, the widespread grief caused by the tragedy was inescapable and all too obvious. On the other hand, it wouldn’t have made much sense to ignore that a game had been played. Running that game story had nothing to do being insensitive about tragic circumstances. It was more about showing respect while at the same time honoring the team that perished. And besides, Salvatore shared his sentiments in his column. The paper’s readers were not short-changed in any manner. They got all the information they could want about the tragedy in other sections of the paper.
       In defeat and in death, the ’70 edition of the Thundering Herd set an admirable standard for playing hard and fast until the final gun. Even in the sadness of that situation, I read the story and envisioned how the game played out and realized just how close Marshall came to pulling off a gutsy comeback.
       Yes, the players were gone and never to return. That was a hard tablet to swallow. Even so, just knowing that the final outcome wasn’t decided until the closing seconds was evidence enough that despite being short-handed personnel-wise, they never gave up. The Thundering Herd left it all on the field that day at East Carolina
      The ’70  team gets my continuous applause.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Remember '70: Team gave its all from start to finish


        When Marshall University suffered a gut-wrenching 17-14 road loss to East Carolina in 1970, nobody knew that it would be the Herd’s final game for that season.
       A few hours after the conclusion of the East Carolina game, Marshall’s chartered jet crashed as it approached the runway at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. There were no survivors.
       The sadness, dismay and the shock of such a horrific event are all too obvious. Those memories from November 14, 1970 are still painful for so many people. But there’s also another side to that coin. In reviewing how the Marshall-East Carolina game played out, there’s consolation in realizing how the ’70 team gave everything it had to give until the very end.
       Here’s how it all went down:
       Marshall trailed by a field goal with about 90 seconds left to play in the game. Quarterback Ted Shoebridge commandeered a final drive that reached ECU’s 25-yard line, which was within the range of place-kicker Marcello Latjerman.
       With a little over 30 seconds remaining, there was still enough time to reach the end zone for the game-winning score. Keep in mind that back then, college football did not have overtime. Games that ended in a stalemate at the end of regulation were declared ties.
      On third-and-10 from the ECU 25, Shoebridge was flushed from the pocket and he threw a pass to running back Art Harris, who fielded the low throw on the first bounce. What happened next was a call that probably cost the Herd its best chances for pulling this one out in the closing seconds. Even though the under-thrown pass landed in close proximity to an eligible receiver, the officials called Shoebridge for intentional grounding.
      Instead of fourth-and-10 and a possible field goal attempt, Marshall faced a fourth-and-34 from midfield. Shoebridge’s next pass attempt fell incomplete which sealed the win for East Carolina.
       This game was really a microcosm of Marshall’s season. The Herd finished the year at 3-6. But the win-loss record doesn’t tell the complete story. In four of MU’s losses, the average margin of defeat was 3 ½ points. That in itself reveals a lot about the ’70 team. The Herd’s record could easily have been 7-2. This was certainly a sign that better days were coming soon.
       But then there was the plane crash, followed by the burying of MU’s dead and the painstaking process of systematically restoring a decimated football program.
 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 1970 version of Thundering Herd left its mark

       Forty-plus years ago seem like such a long time ago. Yet, to this very day, the images from an unforgettable college semester are still crystal clear.
        It was foggy, rainy and frigid night—a night when a college lost most of its football team in a horrible plane crash. Even with the passage of so many years, the memories of the deep hurt felt by students at Marshall University and the citizens of Huntington, West Virginia can never be erased. For me, November 14, 1970 is a part of my personal history that will always produce mixed emotions whenever I think about it.
       Yes, there’s sadness and despair in remembering the sorrow caused by the tragedy. But there’s also joy in being an eye-witness. I watched and rejoiced as a decimated football program regrouped and moved forward in spite of devastating losses.
       From time to time, I’ve wondered about what Marshall football would be like if the rainy night in November turned out differently than it did.

  • What if there had not been a plane crash?
  • What if there had been no football recruiting scandal in 1969 that drastically reduced the Thundering Herd’s talent level?
  • Why didn’t my former teammates get the same opportunity as I did to pursue my goals and dreams?
  • Why am I still here?

       These are questions that I’ve pondered from time to time. But as far as I can determine, no answers are forthcoming. And besides, it’s all speculation as to what could have been, what might have been, what should have been.
       This is what I do know.
       There’s heart-warming consolation in knowing that the ’70 version of Marshall’s Thundering Herd left an indelible mark on the school and the community. Against overwhelming odds, they continued to persevere. There’s no doubt that their collective dedication and passion for the game laid the foundation for the football victories that were to come in later years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Marshall's Memorial Fountain is a celebration of life

"They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever, and this memorial records their loss to the university and the community.”
Inscription from bronze plaque at fountain plaza site

       The Memorial Student Center Fountain is a tulip-shaped sculpture which will always serve as a reminder of Marshall University’s past and its future. Located in the plaza area on the campus-side of the Student Center building, this unique landmark stands as a monument to those who perished in the November 14, 1970 plane crash that killed most of the school’s football team.
       This tragedy cut so deep because it involved more than the football team, coaching staff and school administrators. Also lost were some of the school’s strongest supporters. Doctors, attorneys, business people and civic leaders were also on board the ill-fated flight in which there were no survivors.
       The fountain serves as a monument to honor those who died, but that isn’t the sole purpose for its existence. When the fountain was dedicated a few days before the second anniversary of the crash in November 1972, sculptor Harry Bertoia made it known that his creation was more about celebrating life as opposed to mourning the tragic deaths of the crash victims.
       There’s strong symbolism associated with Memorial Fountain. The flowing waters from the fountain represent the continuation of life. Every year on November 14, the school conducts a memorial service which includes the traditional laying of the wreath at the front of the fountain. Once that part of the service is completed, the fountain’s waters are turned off until the next spring.
  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book excerpt: Chapter Five ... Homegoing Caravan

       Editor's Note: Five days after the plane crash, a group of about 50-55 people representing Black United Students of Marshall University rode a chartered bus on a five-day trip that covered more than 1,500 miles. They attended a wake and three funerals at Bluefield, West Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Greenwood, South Carolina. This trip enabled these college students to say their good-byes to seven of the ten black football players who died.


       Getting fifty seats on the chartered bus filled was not a problem. There was a strong sense of obligation to go on this trip. Folks had a burning desire to pay their final respects. Nobody ever said it, but all of us knew it was the appropriate thing to do. Whites were not barred from the caravan. It just turned out that no white folks signed up to go. The school made sure that Marshall would be represented at every player’s funeral by assigning various faculty and staff members to attend designated services.
       Several campus organizations held memorial services for all the crash victims. But among the blacks at Marshall, there was a unique affinity because of skin color and culture. Call it a sign of the times. It was a time in which blacks were the small minority on white college campuses, but were very vocal in helping to pave the way for blacks’ inclusion into every facet of student life.
       Marshall was no different. Back then, the black pride movement was at its peak. The soul hit “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown became an anthem for blackness back in the day.
       “Marshall was a very small community,” said Angela Dodson. “There were only a few us (black students). To lose ten at one time was a big dent. In the midst of all the confusion and shock, we needed to do something active or proactive to try to process all that had happened and be part of it.”
       The most unique aspect of this trip was the kaleidoscope of emotions experienced by the passengers as they traveled from one funeral site to another. There were upbeat moments accompanied by laughter and horseplay—and always lots of spontaneous singing. By the end of the journey, it’s safe to say that there were few onboard who didn’t know at least one stanza of the black church hymn “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”
       All during the trip, caravan passengers sang spirit-lifting songs that reinforced a message of hope that some way, somehow, everything was going to be all
right. Audience participation on the bus trip didn’t end with song. As a means of coping, the passengers—one by one—got out of their seats and shared their fondest memories of the players who died. These testimonial-style presentations helped everyone on the bus to learn more about the human side of these deceased athletes.
       Melancholy moments were to be expected. Every time the bus would get within forty to forty-five minutes of arriving at the next funeral stop, the mood would change dramatically. Bus riders went from being jovial to being in mourning. At those times, silence gripped the atmosphere. With the exception of some quiet chatter here and there, the only sound was the barely audible hum of the engine as the bus motored down the highway.
       This aura of quietness remained when passengers boarded the bus after attending a homegoing. The silence would last for as long as an hour or two. At times, the stillness was so obvious that you could hear a mosquito breathe.
       These extremes in shifting emotions played out time after time over the course of this trip. “At one point, you felt terribly sad,” said Bundy. “But
then you felt a closeness, a togetherness, a love for each other; and you felt
how everybody was holding up everybody else.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Q&A with author of memoir "November Ever After"

Book author Craig T. Greenlee
Q. What excites you most about your book’s topic? Why did you choose it?
A. I’m most excited about the opportunity to present a story that’s been overlooked for far too long. It’s a story whose time has finally come. This might sound a bit strange. I didn’t choose the topic. The topic chose me.

Q. What surprised you the most about the book writing process?
A. It’s so amazing how much detail reveals itself when you let folks talk. And when they finish a train of thought, you follow up with something like “How did that make you feel?” Or, after all these years, what’s your point of view on this today?”

Q. Did you have any favorite experiences when writing your book?
A. I produced a series of video teasers for the book, all of which were well received. Writing concisely to fit a 90-second video clip is tons of fun for me. Even better is that I was able to use some photos that I shot from Marshall football games during that time when I was a graduate journalism student.

Q. What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?
A. My hope is that they will gain a full understanding of how amazing this story is. It’s even more amazing than what’s been presented in previously produced media projects. In the process, I’m confident that readers will be enlightened and educated.

Q: Who inspires you the most?
A: My mother, Winnie F. Greenlee—the most determined person I have ever known. Mom worked in civil service for more than forty years and retired early to help take care of my dad, who had retired from the U.S. Postal Service. After my dad died, she sold the house and moved into a newly-built home—at the age of 74. She went back to school and earned a college degree in business management at age 80. Mom, known as “Miss Winnie”, also taught as a substitute in the public school system for several years. All during this time, she always made the time to do her own yard work each and every week (mowing grass, trimming the driveway and tending to her garden of shrubs, flowers and plants). At the time of her passing (March 2010), my mother was three months shy of her 90th birthday. Mom knew about this book and I let her know that it was dedicated to her. I had hoped that she’d still be here so I could present her with a copy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bowl games: More than a measure of satisfaction

Marshall brought some thunder on its bowl trip to Florida. (stpetersburg.com)
        As someone who can remember way back when, being a witness to Marshall’s football team making headway in 21st century post-season play is beyond exhilarating—it’s downright euphoric.
       The Thundering Herd whipped allegedly-superior Florida International by a count of 20-10 in the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl on national television Tuesday night. In doing so, MU defied all the odd-makers along with all the supposedly-astute prognosticators.
       For me, this was more than gaining a measure of satisfaction. I remember a time when MU was on its way to reaching a point where the program could routinely compete for bowl championships and the nation’s top high school talent. But a major recruiting scandal in ’69, followed by the plane crash the following year, set things back and it took more than a decade for Herd football get fully back on track.
       Yet, even during those lean seasons in ’69 and ’70, Marshall had its share of blue-chippers, several whom were NFL-caliber athletes. The Herd had enough players with enough of a skill set to help put the school on the football map a lot sooner than the ‘90s when MU emerged as the winningest college team of that decade.
       In spite of the bad times, in spite of the trials, in spite of the disappointments, the program continued.  Through sheer perseverance, the Herd eventually turned losing skids into winning streaks.
       That’s a quantum turnaround for a program that used to be everybody’s designated Homecoming opponent. When I played defensive back for the Herd in ’69, I saw more than my share of floats, parade endings and Homecoming queens.
       For a long time, I wondered if I would ever see the day when Marshall would be good enough to play a post-season game in football. Now that it’s happened—MU is 7-2 in bowl games since 1997—I push the rewind button in my memory and think about those days in the late ‘60s when the Herd started to recruit a large number of players from the Deep South.
       Because of the scandal and the plane crash, the players from back in the day didn’t get the opportunity to play for championships. But now, it’s a totally different scenario. Watching the Herd do battle in bowl games represents a vision that has finally been fulfilled. The MU teams of today have made good on the dreams and hopes of those MU teams of yesteryear, who were on a mission to transform the Herd from being a perennial pushover to being a formidable force.     
       Thank you Thundering Herd.
 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marshall's 12th Man alive and well in Florida

       The fat lady didn’t have to sing. Marshall’s 12th Man took care of that.
       Marshall’s Thundering Herd—the break-even bowl entry with a 6-6 record at the end of regular season—thundered at the right moments and zapped heavily-favored Florida International 20-10 in the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl on Tuesday night.
       For the uninitiated, Marshall’s 12th Man is an unseen, yet undeniable force that seems to inspire the Herd to climb to higher heights. On so many occasions in the past, the mere presence of this behind-the-scenes phenomenon has spurred Marshall's team to win games that most of the so-called pundits declared they have no business winning.
       The 12th Man has always been a fixture at MU’s home field in Huntington, West Virginia —Joan Edwards Stadium. For this week, this unseen presence traveled south to St. Petersburg, Florida and took up temporary residence at Tropicana Field, the bowl site. Looking back on the sequence of events that determined the final outcome, who’s to say that the 12th Man didn’t exert significant influence on Marshall’s victory?
       For three quarters, it looked like neither team would ever assert itself and take control. But things changed in the final quarter of this nationally televised game on ESPN. Here’s the recap:
  • With game tied at 10, Zach Dunston blocked an FIU punt which led to Tyler Warner’s 39-yard field and the Herd went up 13-10.
  • Florida International responded with what appeared to be a promising drive. T.Y. Hilton, the Panthers’ ultimate break-away threat, caught a short pass and ran 22 yards. But before the play was finished, MU defensive back Omar Brown stripped him of the ball and the Herd regained possession. End of scoring threat for International.
  • With less than 40 seconds left to play, the Panthers defense stiffened and Marshall, clinging to a three-point lead, faced a fourth-and-five from International’s 35-yard line. If the Herd failed to move the chains or convert a long field, FIU gets the ball back with a last-gasp opportunity to win it at the end. That’s what happened a year ago when the Panthers pulled off a hook-and-ladder pass play that set up the game-winning field goal in a 34-32 comeback win over Toledo in the Little Caesar’s Bowl. Didn’t happen this time. Quarterback Rakeem Cato faked a handoff, calmly sidestepped the pass rush, and fired a 35-yard touchdown pass to game MVP Aaron Dobson (seven catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns).
        All the statistical evidence pointed to a Florida International victory. The ESPN crew even talked about how the Panthers had the best record of all the other major colleges in the state of Florida (actually they were tied with Florida State at 8-4 before the bowl game).
      But—as I’ve said before, strength of schedule cannot be overlooked or underestimated. In this case it played out favorably for a Thundering Herd team that wasn’t supposed to be up to the task.
       The 12th Man comes through again ….. Ya’ Herrrrr-dddd!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does strength of schedule really matter? We'll see

       Marshall looks every bit like a borderline entry for anybody’s bowl game. Looks, however, can be deceiving. I’ve scanned one bowl preview after another—everything from Sports Illustrated to the Bleacher Report website—and all the pundits have reached the following consensus:
       The Herd will find itself in deep water without a paddle in tonight’s Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl against Florida International (8 o’clock kickoff on ESPN).
       According to the pundits, Marshall is due for a stomping because:
  • Doc Holliday’s team barely made the postseason scene with a modest 6-6 record;
  • MU has looked awful in defeat – 64-28 to Houston; 59-17 to Tulsa; 30-10 to Virginia Tech; 44-7 to Ohio University; 34-13 to West Virginia.
  • Offense doesn’t score enough (22 points per game); defense is too generous (30.2  points per game)
  • Florida International has too much for the Herd to deal with: break-away receiver/return artist T.Y. Hilton; all-everything back Kedrick Rhodes; forbidding defense spearheaded by linebacker Winston Fraser.

       But … here’s what the pundits aren’t saying:
  • Marshall saved its season with “must have” back-to-back wins, which included an overtime victory over East Carolina, who needed a win to become bowl eligible.
  • The Herd had a tougher schedule (losses to Virginia Tech, Houston and West Virginia, all of whom are ranked in the Top 25). The Panthers did not play any nationally ranked teams.
  • Let’s not forget about a road win over Louisville, this year’s co-champion in the Big East with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Visiting FIU also topped Louisville.
  • Now here’s the kicker that cannot be overlooked. Marshall beat Southern Mississippi 26-20, and it was no fluke, especially when you consider that Southern Miss stuffed Houston (ranked 7th nationally) to win the Conference USA championship game. USM’s upset knocked Houston out of a likely BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl.
       It’s important to note that the Herd hasn’t always played with the same intensity in road games as it has on its home turf at Edwards Stadium. This is a home game for Florida International. Panthers’ fans only have a four-hour drive from Miami to the bowl site in St. Petersburg.
       Marshall’s players are probably tired of hearing all the constant talk about how Florida International is on a mission to establish its credentials as a budding football power. Stats aside, home field advantage aside, it all comes down to which team is ready to play from start to finish. Strength of schedule, which favors the Herd, should make a huge difference. But that’s hardly a guarantee for a Marshall victory.
       That’s why they play the games.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

At memorial service, MU prez recalled halftime visit

       November 15, 1970— Around 7 o’clock on a Sunday night, Memorial Field House begins to fill up quickly. On most occasions, people showed up in droves at this off-campus facility to watch Marshall University play its home basketball games. On this night, a large crowd would attend, but the reason for their presence had nothing to do with basketball.
Donald Dedmon (Radford U.)
       They came to mourn and remember the seventy-five people who were killed in a tragic plane crash involving Marshall’s football team, coaching staff and supporters. It was only twenty-four hours earlier when the team’s chartered jet crashed into the side of a mountain and exploded. There were no survivors. The shock of the crash left people stunned, disturbed and bewildered.
       At the podium Donald Dedmon, Marshall’s acting president, addressed the crowd of more than 7,000. He spoke about the overwhelming sorrow that impacted MU and the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Dedmon was keenly aware that the images from the night before were still fresh in the minds of all who had ties of any kind to the school and the city.
       Instead of focusing on the widespread devastation caused by the tragedy, Dedmon chose to focus on happier times. He then proceeded to paint a portrait of an unforgettable moment that took place a week before the plane crash.
       The following passages from the transcript of the speech that Dedmon delivered at the Sunday memorial service reveals so much about the heart and passion of the 1970 team. Here are excerpts from his speech:
       “We cannot soon forget that horrible picture framed by the broken pines of a West Virginia hillside. But another picture comes to my mind which I know I shall never forget either—a happy picture. It was the picture of your loved ones and mine, a picture which revealed the best that there is in man.
       There in a Fairfield Stadium dressing room a little over a week ago sat Marshall's players and Marshall’s coaching staff paced the floor. The invitation to speak to our boys greatly honored me and what I saw moved me deeply. Our coaches walked among the benches and had a quiet, private word with each player. I never could have believed had I not been there, how badly our boys wanted to win that day. Two openly wept, others were ill from the tension.
       There were white students and black students, but they all wore the big green. The game marked a signal point in their life. Small in number but incredibly determined in spirit, they meant to win that final home game. And win they did—magnificently! It is that picture I want to begin to recall this evening.
       Marshall is better for having had them all!”

The Thundering Herd rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Kent State 20-17. Excerpts of Dedmon’s speech courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch (WV) website.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Saturday's book signing event has been cancelled

       Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the author's control, the book signing event scheduled for Saturday, December 17 has been cancelled. My sincere apologies go out to all of you who were planning on getting an autographed copy of the memoir November Ever After. The book will be available at the Stadium Bookstore (Huntington, West Virginia) in the coming weeks. For details, call the bookstore at (304) 529-2665, or you can contact customer service by clicking on this link.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today's Q&A from back in the day

        The Emmy Award-winning documentary Ashes to Glory debuted to rave reviews in 2000. The film about the 1970 Marshall University plane crash inspired viewers. But for many people like MU alumna Angela Dodson, it would be years after the documentary’s release before they could muster up enough nerve to watch a film that  brought back so many painful memories. Dodson, a free-lance writer, editor and consultant, was a sophomore journalism major at the time of the tragedy.
        Q: What gave you "the nerve" to finally sit down and watch Ashes to Glory?
Angela Dodson
        A: I felt I needed to see it for background and context to write a story on you and November Ever After for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (www.diverseeducation.com). By the time I watched it, I had already read your book, so those wounds had already been opened up. The documentary couldn’t hurt much. 
       Q: What were your thoughts after you finished watching it?
       A: I realized what a profound and shocking experience we had lived through. I always thought so, but time had dulled the senses and this helped bring it back. Your book reflects more of my own experience of the event.
      The documentary taught me more about other people’s particular experiences and circumstances and brought me up to date on some people I had wondered about, like the two cheerleaders whose parents were killed, leaving them to raise younger brothers and sisters. One of the cheerleaders was a journalism major with us, and I always wanted to know how the family coped.
     I enjoyed learning, for instance, about the family that owned Marco, the live baby buffalo mascot. (I was at the game the day he broke loose on the football field.) Partly because I was in the local media after college, I also saw news people I knew in the documentary commenting on the events, and I enjoyed that.
    To paraphrase what my roommate, Murrial Jarrett, said after reading your book, I was 19 again and the events were fresh. It was glad to see some of the players “alive” again on the screen, and I could remember some of them as if the last time I had seen them was yesterday. Others were guys I had kind of forgotten or didn’t know as well, and the documentary freshened my memories of them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marshall schoolmate remembers Roger Childers

By Gary Sweeney

       Author’s note: The following is a message I received from a schoolmate of Roger Childers who died in the MU plane crash over forty-one years ago. Author Craig T. Greenlee and Childers came to Marshall the same year (1968) and were teammates on the football team for two seasons.

Roger Childers
       Life takes many turns and the many roads less traveled become a part of our lives.  Because Craig had given up the game of football, he was not on board the plane that dark and stormy night of November 14, 1970.  I believe God had a new purpose for Craig...and it would take over forty-one years before he would pen a book about “what it was like to be a student and ex-teammate of our THUNDERING HERD football team.”
       On page 43 of the memoir November Ever After, Craig wrote:
       "Roger Childers was a newlywed who got married eight days before the crash. He came to Marshall in '68 and was the only white player in the starting secondary on the freshman team.  The next year, he played linebacker and then sat out the '70 season after undergoing major surgery.  The year he sat out, he was team manager.  Roger planned to return to competition in '71.”
       I cried as I read that passage about Roger, over and over.  Craig is not aware that Roger was my little fraternity brother of the Kappa Alpha Order.  Roger meant so much to all of us in our brotherhood.
       He was one of my best friends, although, I was a few years older than he.  Roger and I had met during the summer of '68 when we worked for a fencing company in my newly adopted town of St. Albans, West Virginia.  He had decided that he was going to join Marshall’s football team as a walk-on.
        I invited Roger to rush Kappa Alpha Order.  I was also set to serve at Roger's wedding. But during the summer of ’70, I was drafted into the Army while attending graduate school at Marshall
       Around the time that Roger got married, I was preparing for a tour of duty in Southeast Asia (Thailand and Vietnam) and was stationed at Ft. Lee, Virginia. Because of that, I did not receive a pass to come to West Virginia for Roger's wedding.
       As a result, I was unable to share that joyous occasion with him. Sadly, though, I did come back to serve as a pall bearer at Roger’s memorial service which was held a few days after the plane crash.

Gary Sweeney is a Marshall University graduate who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Thundering Herd football will always be part of me'

Front page article from The Parthenon, December 2, 1970
       In the weeks immediately following the Marshall University crash, I was given a writing assignment that I really didn’t want. I got this idea that I would not be assigned to cover any major stories for The Parthenon (student newspaper) because I had no prior experience as a news reporter.
      That’s why I was surprised when I was told that I would have to do a story on a National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the cause of the crash in which 75 people died, including most of MU’s football team.
       The federal hearing, conducted by the NTSB’s four-man board of inquiry, was held in Huntington, West Virginia and lasted three days. I really didn’t have an intense interest in doing this story. Maybe it was because of my denial. Just really didn’t care to dwell on any particulars about this subject.
       I never expressed any reservations to the student newspaper advisor about doing the story, but I did proceed with reluctance. The article ran on the front page of the December 2, 1970 edition of The Parthenon. For whatever reason, I still have an original copy of that newspaper from 41 years ago.
      To this day, it still amazes me that even though I walked away from the game, I still could not make a definitive break from Marshall University football. I was an ex-jock who had no desire to put the pads on again. At that time, I had not entertained any thoughts about making a comeback after the crash. That would happen a few months later.
     In December of ’70, playing football was the farthest thing from my mind. Even so, I could no longer continue to ignore the feeling that I still had a strong affinity for the game in general and for Marshall in particular. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better for me to openly acknowledge that Thundering Herd football will always be part of me.”
          

Monday, December 12, 2011

Instant replay: Interview on NPR affiliate WFDD

Book author Craig T. Greenlee from back in the day.
        “For a long time, I never felt like what I knew was something that people would be interested in. That’s because I felt a detachment from the team. I was not a part of that particular team. But when I found out certain things along the way …..
       For example, when the first documentary was put together (Ashes to Glory in 2000), they talked about a young man named Felix Jordan, who was taken off the (team) bus at the last minute so that one of the (MU) boosters could ride, because they were helping to pay for the cost of the flight. That’s why he’s alive today.
       Felix and I played the same position…. In the documentary, they call out Felix’s name. But the picture they showed was a picture of me. That’s when it hit me—you could have been on that plane. That was a contributing factor (for me to tell my story) … to say that maybe you do have something (to say) that would be of value.”

      Author Craig T. Greenlee talks about his memoir November Ever After with host Denise Franklin on Voices & Viewpoints, an interview program originally recorded by and aired on 88.5 WFDD, a National Public Radio affiliate covering the Piedmont Triad. This is an encore replay of that in-depth discussion. To hear this half-hour interview, go to the Voices & Viewpoints page here, and click on the “LISTEN” icon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Coming up this Saturday ..... Meet the author


CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY BOOK SIGNING
NOVEMBER EVER AFTER
A memoir of tragedy and triumph

By Craig T. Greenlee
Marshall University graduate and former Thundering Herd defensive back


Saturday, December 17, 2011
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The Stadium Bookstore
1949 Fifth Avenue
Huntington, West Virginia 27103

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Audio excerpt: November Ever After .. Chapter 10

        In my mind, it’s always been somewhat of a mystery as to why the black students at Marshall University never talked about the plane crash and how we chose to deal with such a devastating loss. By not saying anything, perhaps we convinced ourselves that somehow, our silence was the best way for us to cope with such a horrendous experience in our young lives. Below is a snippet from a chapter of the memoir November Ever After.

       “In retrospect, I suspect that we were products of our college-day era. There were no probing discussions about how we were impacted because there was no model for us to follow. Grief counseling—as we know it today—was nonexistent back then. There was no professional counseling available for us like there was for those involved in the tragedies at Columbine High School in Colorado and Virginia Tech University. I believe that many of us selectively blocked out specifics of events associated with the plane crash. Blocking out served as a sedative of sorts to help ease the suffering.”   

       To listen to this chapter—It’s Always With You—in its entirety, click on the following link.

Friday, December 9, 2011

TODAY: Greenlee's interview airs on NPR affiliate

        The story of the1970 Marshall University football plane crash is forever fascinating. Yet, there are glaring omissions in previously-produced media projects about the tragedy.
       Learn what really happened when host Denise Franklin talks to book author Craig T. Greenlee on Voices & Viewpoints, a half-hour interview program on National Public Radio affiliate 88.5 WFDD. The interview will air today (December 9) at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Greenlee, a Marshall graduate and former Thundering Herd defensive back, will discuss his recently-released book—November Ever After—a memoir about the crash and its aftermath.
       To hear the interview, go to WFDD’s website, click here for the Voices & Viewpoints page, then click on the “LISTEN” icon.
       The evening of November 14, 1970 was damp and chilly with a steady drizzle and dense fog. That night, a plane crash wiped out most of the school’s football team. Unless you were there, you could never fully comprehend the gravity of grief that engulfed Huntington, West Virginia, in the days following the worst aviation disaster in the history of American sports.
       Greenlee knows.
       He was there.
       He’ll never forget.
       It could have been him on that plane.
      Voices & Viewpoints is a weekly program which airs on 88.5 WFDD, the NPR® news and Triad Arts station broadcasting from Wake Forest University. WFDD broadcasts news, information, and public affairs programming to 32 counties from both its Winston-Salem (NC) and Greensboro (NC) studios.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wichita State Shockers also know the pain .. Part 2

       Marshall University and Wichita State University will always be forever linked because of tragic situations involving the loss of their football teams. Certainly, there are so many similarities in comparing the horrible chain of events these schools were involved in over forty years ago. By the same token, there are unique differences.
'70 Memorial at Wichita State (photo courtesy of WSU)
       For example, one school finished its season and the other school didn’t. That’s not a knock on Marshall. It’s more reflective of the timing of the tragedies. At the time of the MU crash (November 14, 1970), the Herd had just one game left on the schedule.
       Even though most of the players who left over from the crash wanted to play Ohio University, it wasn’t going to happen. There were still funerals to attend on that same weekend when that game was scheduled to be played. Not only that, but it was unimaginable how anyone could find a way to focus on football so soon after such a devastating turn of events. And anyway, it’s highly unlikely that Ohio U. would’ve agreed to play the game.
       That’s not how things transpired for Wichita State. At the time of that crash (October 2, 1970), the Shockers were 0-3 and had not reached the midpoint of their season. The remaining players voted 76-1 in favor of playing out the rest of the schedule, which was often referred to as the “Second Season.”
       The NCAA helped out by lifting its ban on freshmen playing varsity football. Three weeks after the tragedy, Wichita State was back in action­­—on the road—against Arkansas, ranked ninth in the nation. The Shockers started 10 sophomores and seven freshmen against the Razorbacks and they paid the price in suffering a 62-0 whipping. None of the players who survived the crash played in that game.
       Arkansas coach Frank Broyles showed mercy by pulling his starters after 18 plays with the Razorbacks up by 20-0. Even so, the Shockers were still hopelessly over-matched. Third-string quarterback Joe Ferguson (Buffalo Bills) came off the bench to throw for 300-plus yards.
       Given the emotional trauma that Wichita State’s players were forced to deal with, the final score wasn’t their sole focus. John Yeros, a freshman receiver for the Shockers stated the case plainly when interviewed by the Wichita Eagle. “Those that died they wouldn't have wanted us to quit,” Yeros said. “It wasn't a great team to begin with. But it was a team that hung together.”
       Wichita State’s “Second Season” roster was comprised of 43 freshmen, 24 sophomores, six juniors, and three seniors. Even though the ’70 Shockers were winless at 0-9, they did play Louisville tough, but lost 34-24 in the season finale.
       Two years later, led by the same freshmen and sophomores who voted to continue the '70 season—Wichita State went 6-5 to post its first winning season since 1963.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wichita State Shockers also know the pain

       There’s only one college in America that can truly empathize with Marshall University’s pain and angst of 1970—Wichita State University in Kansas.
       The Marshall plane crash is well-documented. But what many folks may not remember is that six weeks before the MU tragedy, Wichita State’s football team met a similar fate.
The Wichita State plane crash occurred on October 2, 1970.
       On Friday, October 2 of that year, the Shockers were en route by plane for a road game against Utah State University. But around 1:15 that afternoon, one of the team’s two planes crashed into a mountain near Silver Plume, Colorado. Twenty-nine of the 36 passengers on that plane were killed. Later on, two others died from their crash injuries while under medical care.
       The second plane flew a different route to its Logan, Utah destination and landed safely. It was determined that pilot error was the cause of the crash. According to reports, the plane that crashed got trapped in a box canyon and was unable to ascend high enough to clear the mountain ridges surrounding it on three sides. To make matters worse, there was not enough room for the plane to do a reverse turn that would enable the aircraft to escape danger.
       Saturday’s game was canceled. Utah State’s football team held a memorial service at the stadium where the game was to have been played. In the meantime, Wichita State officials and the families of the survivors were flown to Denver on a plane made available by the Governor of Kansas.
       The two schools have never played each other in football again. As part of a cost-cutting measure, Wichita State dropped varsity football after the 1986 season.
       Wichita State built a memorial for the crash victims, which is known as Memorial '70. Every year on October 2 at 9 a.m., a wreath is placed at this memorial. There’s also a roadside memorial plaque listing the names of the victims, which is located near the Colorado crash site.
       Bill Cosby and Monty Hall hosted a fundraiser for the Wichita State and Marshall athletic departments after the crashes, from Wichita.

      Want to know more? Click here to read an Associated Press news article published around the time of the 40th anniversary of the Wichita State crash.

Monday, December 5, 2011

'The catch' keeps MU's Dobson in national spotlight

By Andrew Ramspacher
Staff Writer
The Herald-Dispatch
Huntington, West Virginia

       Editor’s Note: Aaron Dobson’s scoring reception was a key play in Marshall’s 34-27 overtime over East Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend. The Herd notched its sixth win to become bowl eligible. Marshall will face Florida International in the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl on December 20 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The game will be televised at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

       It's nearing 2,000,000 views on YOUTUBE
       It's appeared more on ESPN recently than Chris Berman.
       It's a back-hander. A one-hander. An eye-popper. A circus grab.
       It's "The Catch."
       And over one week later, The Catch creator is still reveling in its glory.
       No, Aaron Dobson's helmet size hasn't grown to exponential proportions, but, hey, the Marshall University receiver doesn't mind the bits of extra love. "It's been a lot of attention," said Dobson, whose spectacular 13-yard touchdown snag against East Carolina on November 26 has turned into a national sensation. "People have just been tweeting me and all this. It's just a lot of attention. It's what's up, though. I like it a lot. I can get used to it."
       To recap, the Thundering Herd, trailing the Pirates 17-10, was faced with a third-and-goal with less than one minute to play in the first half.
       Rakeem Cato took a shotgun snap and fired a fade to the left corner of the end zone. There was Dobson, all 6-foot-3, 204 pounds of him, about to go after a football as though it was a tip-off during his South Charleston High School basketball days. His competition was ECU's Derek Blacknall, a 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back.
       "I just threw it up for grabs, hoping he would come down with it," Cato said.
       But as Dobson leaped, his left arm appeared to be tugged by Blacknall, leaving him with only one option. If this thing was going to be completed, it had to be with one hand – his back hand. "The only time I thought he was going to drop it was when he came fully down," Cato said.
       But gravity wasn't going to affect this ridiculous of a play.
       Dobson quickly returned to the turf with pigskin in hand, signaling a score. A replay soon appeared on the videoboard in Joan C. Edwards Stadium's south end zone, giving the crowd its first slowed down view.
Naturally, the Joan went nuts.
       "I remember being back there kicking the extra point," said Tyler Warner. "I was getting lined up and everyone in the stands just went crazy. They made that big loud noise at one time. I was like, 'Wait, what's wrong? What happened?' And it was the replay on the scoreboard. It was amazing."
       The Catch has since made its rounds, first appearing at No. 1 on SportsCenter's Top Plays that evening. To date, it has yet to lose that spot, reigning supreme in SC's "Best of the Best."
       "Yeah, I almost lost to the frisbee dude," Dobson said of his Thursday "Best of the Best" competition, a diving off-a-speed-boat frisbee catch made by specialist Brodie Smith.
       But thanks to his fans – and teammates – The Catch remains victorious.
       "I've watched it probably two or three times," said Tyson Gale. "My dad called me and said, 'Hey, it's on Best of the Best. I voted for it. Hopefully, he keeps on winning that thing."
       "I voted on ESPN.com for him to be the Best of the Best," Warner said.
       And who knows? Is an ESPY in Dobson's future?
       "I mean definitely," he said. "If I can get there, yeah, I can definitely have a good time there."
And for the record, The Catcher himself has replayed his greatness "seven or eight times," he said.

Contact Andrew Ramspacher at 304-526-2759 or aramspacher@herald-dispatch.com.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book author goes deep on NPR affiliate

       Join host Denise Franklin for an in-depth conversation with author Craig T. Greenlee on Voices & Viewpoints, a half-hour, distinctive interview program on National Public Radio affiliate 88.5 WFDD. The interview is scheduled for broadcast on Friday, December 9 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
       Greenlee shares his innermost thoughts about the November 14, 1970 plane crash which claimed the lives of 75 people, including most of Marshall University’s football team. The tragedy is considered to be the worst in the history of American sports.
       To hear the interview, go to  http://wfdd.org/programs/voices.php and click on “LISTEN.”
       Voices & Viewpoints airs on 88.5 WFDD, the NPR® news and Triad Arts station broadcasting from Wake Forest University. WFDD broadcasts news, information, and public affairs programming to 32 counties from both its Winston-Salem (NC) and Greensboro (NC) studios.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ruffin instrumental in preserving '70 Herd's legacy

By Bill Dodson
       I attended Homecoming 2010 when we dedicated the Nate Ruffin Lounge at the new Erickson Alumni Center.  It is a marvelous room filled with Marshall University memorabilia.  You could do a great tailgate party there!  
     The University commissioned a bust of a young Nate, which was made available for public viewing at the lounge dedication. Carter Taylor Seaton, the sculptor who created the bust, was in attendance.  When visitors enter the lounge area, they are greeted by Nate’s bust. On the front-door entrance to the lounge, there’s an etched-in-glass likeness of Nate.
       As the dedication program progressed, I noticed a black couple who sat across the table from me that I did not know. Afterwards, they were introduced to me as Nate's brother and his wife from Quincy, Florida where Nate grew up and played football.  They were overwhelmed by the kind words and expressions about Nate on this special occasion.
       I am proud of the MU Black Alumni's (MUBA) support of Nate Ruffin. In my last meeting with Nate (2000), we discussed ways to get more black alumni involved with the school.
       After his death in October 2001, it was clear to me that Nate could be the one figure we could rally around. As an icon of the 1971 football team who was active with the school and MUBA, he was a true champion for preserving the 1970 team's legacy.
       It will bless you to watch the YouTube video of Nate reading a letter to his fallen teammates on an ABC-TV network broadcast that aired in 2000. The video provided a means for the school to increase awareness of MU's Campaign for National Prominence as well as to solicit increased support from the school’s black alumni.

Bill Dodson is a Marshall graduate and executive director of the Dayspring Christian Community Development Corporation in Columbus, Ohio.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book review: Marshall memoir is personal, affecting

The author played free safety at Marshall U.
BY JAY REDDICK
Staff writer
News & Record
Greensboro, NC

       When Craig T. Greenlee says, “We are Marshall,” he means it.
       Greenlee played football at Marshall University in the late 1960s and was still a student at the school when a plane crash left 75 people dead and wiped out most of the varsity team on November 14, 1970.
       In his new memoir November Ever After, Greenlee, a former News & Record sports reporter and copy editor, tells the story of that time period and its effect on the community. His personal recollections, combined with a journalist’s penchant for detail and research, make November Ever After a compelling read.
       Greenlee makes no effort to recount what might have happened on the airplane, instead sticking to the reaction on the ground. He conducted numerous interviews with surviving friends and family members, along with some who might have been on the plane had circumstances not intervened. That helped to create a picture of the atmosphere in Huntington, West Virginia during the era.
       Many of the victims were Greenlee’s best friends at Marshall. In fact, he was so close to the situation that some members of his own family believed he was on the doomed plane, which had taken off from Kinston, NC after the Thundering Herd’s loss to East Carolina. But the defensive back had quit football at the end of the 1969 season, saying his heart wasn’t in it anymore. And that decision, he realized, saved his life.
       Greenlee’s closest friend on the plane was Scottie Reese, an outside linebacker and defensive end. Greenlee was engaged three weeks before the crash and had just recently asked Reese to be his best man.
       “Even though we (Greenlee and his fiancĂ©e) realized that the crash did happen, it was like we were both frozen in a state of being numbfounded,” Greenlee wrote. “No tears, no bawling and no wailing. No escape from the inner turmoil that seemed to be everlasting.”
       Some of the most powerful passages in the book involve the moments when Greenlee and his classmates in a campus dormitory heard about the crash, then learned there were no survivors. Some snuck around police barricades to get closer to the wreckage and see for themselves. Others made tearful phone calls to victims’ families. And some, like Greenlee, tried to escape public displays and deal with the shock on their own.
       The shared sorrow did bring the campus together. Greenlee tells the story of a fight between black and white campus groups the day before the crash, revealing racial tension he believes could have resulted in a full-blown riot if not for the distraction.
       Later, black students chartered a bus to attend four memorial services in four states in five days. The 1,500-mile trip was dubbed the Homegoing Caravan.
       Greenlee said he was inspired to tell his own story after seeing embellishments, omissions and untruths in the 2006 feature film We Are Marshall, and a documentary released around the same time.
       November Ever After fills those gaps. In a conversational, first-person style, Greenlee makes you understand what the 1970 Marshall crash meant to those who were affected, then and now.

Book review DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alum's perspective on memoir: 'My life is richer'

By Gary Sweeney
       During Marshall’s Homecoming weekend in October, my wife (Anne) and I got to visit a very good friend – Maurice Cooley – who we cultivated a lasting friendship with during our days at MU. Maurice serves our alma mater today with his enthusiastic leadership in helping black students gain an education at our beloved Marshall [as director of the Student Relations Center].
       Maurice escorted me and Anne to the on-campus bookstore to meet Craig Greenlee. Craig and I are graduates of Marshall's W. Page Pitt School of Journalism & Mass Communications. But because I’m a few years older, we never had any journalism classes together. 
       Craig had a book signing for November Ever After on Homecoming Day. His book is unlike others that have documented the heartache that Huntington, West Virginia faced during those dark times which started on the night of November 14, 1970.  It's about the tragedy that we – as young students – did not know how we should act or react. Most of us had never been forced to deal with the emotions associated with death. Not only that, but we had to come to grips with losing most of our football team and coaches, our classmates and friends. Some of us had friends whose parents were passengers on that ill-fated flight.Click here to view "Video Tribute to the 75"
        I’m happy I that purchased a copy of Craig's book.  Not long after Homecoming, we traveled to Texas to see our older daughter (Rebecca), her husband, and three of our wonderful grandchildren. During our visit, I finished the book during the wee hours of quiet nights and early mornings. 
       I laughed.
       I renewed friendships of long days past...
       I cried often! 
       Craig played football for the Herd during our days at Marshall University. He [along with the rest of the large freshman class] was recruited by Coach Perry Moss to become a part of something greater. MU’s undefeated freshman team of 1968 provided tangible proof that the school was serious in its efforts to become a formidable force in college football. 
       Our days in Huntington (West Virginia) were not pleasant ones when it came to football.  Marshall was very close to having the longest losing streak in the nation. Craig was one of many black athletes who accepted Coach Moss's invitation to play football in West Virginia.
      Because Craig had given up the game of football, he was not on board the plane in 1970. I believe God had a new purpose for Craig ... and it would take over forty years before Craig would pen a book about what it was like to be a student at MU and a former Thundering Herd teammate. 
       God has blessed my life often and He continues to do so.  I don't know why Maurice chose to introduce me to Craig Greenlee during Homecoming of 2011. 
       Thank you, Maurice. 
       My life is richer because of November Ever After.

Gary Sweeney is a 1969 graduate of Marshall University.