Friday, September 30, 2011

Thundering Herd football avoids the proverbial ax

       After the plane crash, there was some uncertainty about the future of football at Marshall University. There was rumbling among some faculty members who wanted the school to kick football to the curve.
       The remaining assistant coaches who were not on the fatal flight – Red Dawson, Carl Kokor and Mickey Jackson – didn’t know if there would even be another football season at MU. As things turned out, though, there was never enough support among the anti-gridiron faction that would result in the plug being pulled on Thundering Herd football.
       The “powers that be” never wavered in their desire to continue the program – even if it meant starting from next to zilch. Marshall’s leadership demonstrated their commitment with the hiring of the new athletics director.
       Joe McMullen took the reigns as the new AD less than three months after the tragedy. Hiring McMullen sealed the deal for Herd football. That’s because McMullen was a football guy through and through. Prior to becoming an AD, he had head coaching stints at the University of Akron (Ohio) and San Jose State. Aside from that, he spent a few years as an assistant coach under Joe Paterno, who was in the beginning stages of his legendary career at Penn State.
       While it didn’t take long for Marshall to hire a new athletics director, securing the services of a new coach was another matter entirely.
       McMullen moved swiftly in the hiring process, but hit a few snags along the way. The top candidate, Bob Phillips (Penn State assistant) said no thanks to Marshall’s job offer. About two weeks later, Dick Bestwick, the freshman coach at Georgia Tech, got the nod, but later reneged. Bestwick cited family reasons for his shocking change of heart.
       Another three weeks would pass before McMullen finally got his man – Jack Lengyel – who just happened to be one of McMullen’s former players from the time he coached at Akron. Lengyel was the head coach at Wooster College (Ohio) prior to his coming to Marshall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book signing set for Homecoming Day at Marshall

The story about the 1970 Marshall plane crash is well-known and well-documented. However, there’s so much more to the story, and it’s never been told … until now.
November Ever After, a memoir written by Craig T. Greenlee, takes an up-close and personal look at the tragedy and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of those who were left behind.
Greenlee, a former Thundering Herd defensive back, will return to his alma mater in Huntington, West Virginia to conduct his first book signing on October 15 – Marshall’s Homecoming Day. The session, set for 10 a.m.-2 p.m., will be held on campus at the Marshall University Bookstore, which is housed inside the Memorial Student Center.
There are a number of facts about the Marshall story that have been curiously left out in other media portrayals of the air disaster. For example:
  • Ed Carter, a former MU offensive lineman who missed the fatal trip, started an evangelical ministry as a result of him not being on that plane. Ed’s global ministry is still going strong today.
  • Dickie Carter (no relation to Ed) was a star running back who quit the team a few weeks before the crash. He’s been forgotten about; some might say that he’s been deliberately overlooked. For the first time, Dickie opens up and speaks his peace.
  • The plane crash more than likely averted what could have been a full-scale race riot on Marshall’s campus.
“Most people are amazed by what they discover from the movie and the documentaries about the Marshall tragedy,” said Greenlee. “As amazed as they are, they don’t realize that what they’ve learned is only the tip of the iceberg. The movie We Are Marshall is fine, but it’s only an appetizer. November Ever After represents the full-course meal.”
Greenlee, a Marshall University graduate, is a free-lance writer who has more than 30 years experience as a sports journalist. He is a former sports editor for UPSCALE Magazine and was a frequent contributor to Black Issues in Higher Education (now known as DIVERSE Issues in Higher Education).
Quick facts about book – November Ever After $12.95 (paperback), $9.99 (e-book), 6 x 9, 168 pages. ISBN 978-1-46200-404-1 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-46200-403-4 (e-book). Available at online booksellers including Barnes & Noble,, iUniverse, Books A Million, Kobo, Powell’s Books and Diesel eBook Store.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writer considered using movie title for his book

        The process of deciding on a title for my memoir proved to be a lot more difficult than I ever imagined. The book’s manuscript was half-way finished by the time I came up with the eventual title November Ever After.
       But even after coming up with that title, I still wasn’t sure if it was the best way to go. For months, I just couldn’t come to a final decision. I seriously considered using the movie We Are Marshall as part of my title for the book.
       Why? The movie was well known, even among those who know little or nothing about Marshall University or the plane crash. Because of the movie’s notoriety, including the name of the movie for my book would be a clever play on words. In my mind, including the movie title would give my book some immediate name recognition.
        In order for this to work, I needed to come up with the right play on words. There was a need to decide on a title that would make it easy for readers to make a distinction between the movie and my memoir.
       I thought about naming the book We Are Marshall II, but that was not quite the right fit. That title would make the book sound more like a sequel to the movie, which it is not. But then, I finally came up with what I felt was the right revision for a book title – We Are Marshall Too.
       This new title was a far more accurate description of what the memoir is all about.
       How so?
       People who saw the movie got a good feel for the night of the plane crash and the events that followed. But what they missed out on were the perspectives of other folks who were on the scene at that time. These were the people whose voices have never been included in any of the previously produced media portrayals about the MU tragedy.
       The memoir is full of gripping stories involving Marshall’s black football players and the black students who were left behind in the wake of the disaster. There are so many facets to this story that have never been revealed. One example:  The nasty racial altercation that occurred on the day before the crash and the calming effect the crash had on black-white relations on the Marshall campus.
       There’s also the Homegoing Caravan. Marshall’s black students chartered a bus to attend a wake and three funerals for seven of the ten black players who died in the crash.
        Back then, blacks comprised a small (about three percent), but visible and vocal minority on a campus of 9,000. The black-student perspectives on November 14, 1970 and its aftermath are just as valid and have just as much value as any media project about the Marshall crash. There are a lot of other examples, but I won’t go into those at this juncture.
       The movie We Are Marshall put the story about the crash on a national stage. The black-student point view, however, cannot and should not be overlooked.
       That’s why I could have named my book We Are Marshall Too.
       This variation of a play on words explains it all. Black students were there. Black students shared in the anguish and the turmoil. Now it’s our time to tell our story.
        Right now, you’re probably wondering why I chose to go with another title. That’s another blog entry for another time. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Six months after crash, MU plays a football game

The Alumni defense tries to pressure Marshall quarterback David Walsh.
By Cathy Gibbs

       Editor’s Note: The ’71 Varsity-Alumni spring game marked the first time that Marshall was involved in a football game since the November tragedy that occurred six months earlier. As expected, a larger than usual crowd came to Fairfield Stadium to watch the new team. But there was more to it than that. Even as they observed, they felt the need to reminisce and hold fast to fond memories of the team that passed away. Cathy Gibbs penned the following commentary about that game for the Marshall U. yearbook. Gibbs was the co-managing editor for the Chief Justice for the 1970-71 school year.

        Kickoff …
       As the Green (Varsity) scrambled their way on the first drive, I asked God if we could ever get used to seeing strange names behind familiar numbers.
       Red flag on the play …
       A new Thundering Herd battling with long-time alums. The crowd roared with delight … their team was playing again.
       A fair catch for the Green. My mind wondered from play to play. Just how fair had Marshall been treated? So much athletic suffering from disgrace to death.
       Time out called …
       Time: Something none can control.
       A new president watched anxiously from the press box. He views a “new” Herd begin a new era of MU football.
       A strong alum drive …
       Will Marshall ever reach the point of strength it had prior to that November day?
       Mr. [Gene] Morehouse’s son ran an errand for me … a couple of young widows watched tensely from  the stands … it’ll have to get easier.
       Wait. Another Green interception. The crowd roars.
       A pile-up … incomplete pass … too many Green mistakes … must tighten up the offense more … another fair catch … as the quarter ends, the teams grow restless … so does the crowd.
       The Green outplayed the White to a fault. But still the mistakes were careless.
       The whole game continued as such … anticipation mingled with shock and delight. … the stadium is filled with memories, and good ones at that.
       Exactly six months and one day after … the Thundering Herd played again.

       P.S. In case you're wondering, the Varsity beat the Alumni 26-0. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forgotten memories resurface with uncanny clarity

By Bill Dodson

       EDITOR’S NOTE: The following entry comes from a former schoolmate. Bill Dodson reminded me about a part of the November Ever After saga that should have been included in the book, but wasn’t. Gotta “fess up.” I missed it and have no excuses. Let me take this opportunity to publicly thank Bill for bringing this up. As you read this entry, you’ll come to understand that it’s yet another example of how there’s so much more to the Marshall tragedy than even the people who were left behind ever realized. Seemingly-dormant memories aren’t really dormant. All it takes is the proper stimuli for those forgotten memories to resurface with an uncanny clarity. Dodson writes:

       I noticed in your recollection of the organizing of the caravan, there was no mention of (book author) Alex Haley attending our (MU black students) meeting at the “Bus Station” that was held a few nights after the plane crash. Gaylord Stewart, a junior from Charleston (West Virginia), told me that this man doing research on slavery was speaking at Old Main Auditorium.
Bill Dodson

       He and I went over to explain to Mr. Haley why the black students were not in attendance. Mr. Haley asked to come to the meeting with us. It was not until the Roots television series came out that we knew anything about this man. He had also written The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was one of the most highly-acclaimed books of that time period.
       There’s also something else I remember about the days and weeks leading up to November 14, 1970. Ernie Wilson, a Philadelphia minister, came to the campus a couple weeks before the crash. He told me that another man, evangelist Ross Rhoads, was supposed to come instead. Rhoads had a scheduling conflict and asked Ernie to come in his place.
       At first, Ernie begged off but was troubled by it and later agreed to come. David Buchanan, a friend of mine who most people referred to as a “Jesus Freak,” told me about Wilson, who came across the campus like a “Pied Piper” with students following him to the Campus Christian Center. He gave his testimony about being a jazz musician and how he came to the Lord.
       When he gave the invitation to accept Christ, many (including me) came forward. I recall that several football players, which included Larry “Dupree” Sanders and Larry “the Gov” Brown, responded to the call. I believe the Lord opened a window for those brothers at that meeting! We will see them again!
       All these memories had escaped me until a couple of weeks after the crash when Ernie Wilson returned to Marshall. I ran into him and he was startled by the events. But it was in those weeks after the crash that my memory of his earlier visit was revived. My mother lived in Philadelphia and I asked him to look in on her and he did.

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Readers share their insights about football memoir

       It’s been less than a month since the launch of the memoir November Ever After. And I’m elated that folks are showing immense interest. Some have already contacted me personally to share their thoughts about the book’s contents. Thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you what readers have shared with me. This is a story that has been overlooked for far too long. So now is the time that this story finally gets its proverbial “day in the sun.” Here’s what the people are saying:

"I am reading and remembering. I am eighteen again (1968) and it is a happy fun-filled time in life. And then November1970 came with such a traumatizing memory. I still remember every one of the African-American football players. Some of our conversations I have on a "freeze-frame" in my mind. Thanks, Craig for doing what God would have you to do...write it down in a way that no one else could.”
Murrial Jarrett
Atlanta, Georgia

“I think we all freeze-frame that time in our lives. We have moved on, but we still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Gina Starling Gunn
Nashville, Tennessee

Just got the book in the mail. It's great (just skimmed through). Will have to get copies for friends! It’s a real treasure filling in the details of that dark period. We drew strength from one another. We are bound forever after and celebrate those who have gone on (from the night of November 14, 1970.)”
Bill Dodson
Columbus, Ohio

“I received my copies of your book last evening and it is good, sad and refreshing. I have already started to tell people about your book and will continue to do so.”
Horlin Carter
Greensboro, North Carolina

“Just finished reading your book last night. It was wonderful and I couldn't put it down until I was done. So many memories of the past 40 years. Thank you for sharing it with those of us who were actually there to experience it all.”
Carrie Poston
Dayton, Ohio

“Started reading this last night and I am hooked. I am already fascinated.
Angela Dodson
Trenton, New Jersey

“Just finished reading your book last night. I have to say that it was incredibly enlightening and thought provoking! Needless to say that I'm still in the overall "processing" stage. However, I no longer feel like I walked into a movie that was halfway over. I now have insight as to what happened before I arrived on campus (1971), and I can put together the pieces a whole lot better. I can better appreciate what you, Janice (Cooley), Ed (Carter), et al were dealing with amid all of the hope and hype concerning The Young Thundering Herd! I regret that you and I never sat and talked when we attended school together. I'm sure that I would have been a more "aware" young man both socially, and spiritually than I was.”
Chuck Jackson
Houston, Texas

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's been over 40 years, but this story still matters

Marshall's defense gang-tackles a Kent State running back in the
Thundering Herd's final home game of the 1970 season.
        The Marshall football plane crash happened such a long time ago. So, what’s all the commotion about trumpeting another version of an old story that most people know about?
       Does it really matter?
       Good questions, I thought you’d never ask.
       For some folks, November 14, 1970 seems like eons ago – nearly 41 years to be exact. But this story will never lose its significance. So it does matter, because the whole story needs to be told. And since this is about paying true homage to those who perished, why should any portion of the story be left out?
       There’s no valid reason for that.
       The media works that have been produced up to now – several documentaries; a history book on Marshall football; and the movie We Are Marshall – are all inspiring and thought-provoking. These media portrayals help readers and viewers get a better understanding of what took place at MU on the night of the crash and the weeks and months that followed.
       Most people are amazed by what they discover when they read The Marshall Story and they reflect on what they learned from the movie and the documentaries. As amazed as they are, they don’t realize that what they’ve gleaned is only the tip of the iceberg. The complete story – November Ever After -- is even more amazing than what they already know.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

There's so much more to memoir than football

        Football is the anchor for the memoir November Ever After. However, there’s more to this story than the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of most of Marshall University’s football team.
       The shock and widespread personal devastation caused by the tragedy is well-known and well-documented. But what’s been left out – for far too long in my opinion – is the story of those who were there at that time.
       The essence of November Ever After goes beyond the mind-numbing events from the night of the crash. It delves into the aftermath of the tragedy as seen through the eyes of those who were impacted in the months and years after the crash.
       They suffered deeply. For some, the pain did not disappear completely. On the flip side, these same people witnessed the restoration of a football program that could have easily folded in the face of adverse circumstances.
       Yes, this story has a focus on football and the memories of a horrible night that none of us will ever forget. But it’s also a story that captures the imagination. In so many instances, the personal accounts provided by those who were interviewed for the book sound too much like a Hollywood script. It’s so strange. For those who aren’t familiar with the Marshall saga, it really sounds like fiction.
       But it isn’t.
       Even today, there are a sizeable number of people who are still alive, who can validate the actual events that took place over forty years ago. This memoir has all the ingredients to keep readers moving forward from one chapter to the next.
       So, here’s my quick-glance summary of what this book is all about.

Author to make guest appearance on blog radio

        November Ever After author Craig T. Greenlee is scheduled do a live interview on blog radio on Saturday (September 10) at . Greenlee will appear on The Lawson Brooks Show to talk about his connection to the 1970 Marshall football plane crash. Listeners are invited to tune in by going to on the Internet.
       The movie We Are Marshall, which is also based on the crash, will be part of the talk show discussion. “It’s great that Craig is coming out with the memoir right now,” said Brooks, who was a freshman at Marshall University at the time of the tragedy.
       “Even though two of the movie’s high-profile characters were African-Americans (Nate Ruffin and Reggie Oliver), a lot of stories were missed that couldn’t be included in that two-hour period, particularly as it related to the African-American ball players, their families and Marshall’s African-American students who were there (in 1970).”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Remembering Blevins: Number 80 is forever 20

        I can't really recall my last memory of Dennis Blevins, the junior wide receiver from Bluefield, West Virginia. Blevins perished along with 74 others in the Marshall football plane crash. Even after all this time, the crash is still widely acknowledged as the most tragic accident in the history of sports.
Brooks was a freshman at
Marshall University at the
time of the plane crash.
       While that final recollection evades me, etched in my mind is my encounter with Dennis on the first day that I stepped on Marshall University's campus in August of 1970. Out to tour the grounds, I, along with my friend and fellow Bluefield native Joseph Bundy found ourselves walking toward a group of football players who were congregated adjacent to the South Hall dormitory.
       Dennis turned around and broke out with a huge smile. He came over and put his arms around us and exclaimed, "My home boys!" That was such a great feeling, but you'd have to know Dennis to understand why.
       Although Dennis was only two years older, he was both an icon and an idol among those of us in Bluefield who had athletic aspirations. Unlike me who attended predominately white Central Junior High School and Bluefield High School, Dennis attended all-black Genoa Junior High School and Park Central High School. In Bluefield, everyone attended all of the games no matter where one was enrolled in school.
       Dennis excelled in every sport. In 1968, he earned Class AA All-State honors in football, basketball, and track and was offered a football scholarship to Marshall University. Had there been high school baseball at that time, Dennis would have been All-State in that sport as well.
       However, despite his achievements, Pete Wood, a terrific running back from my high school who had earned Class AAA honors, and who went on to star at West Virginia University, was named Athlete of the Year by a veteran, local sports reporter who covered high school and college sports in West Virginia. While I was both a friend and a fan of Pete on the gridiron, everyone knew that Dennis Blevins was the "real" athlete in terms of overall ability. I’m sure that Pete realized it too. Had Dennis played for Bluefield High, there's no doubt that he would have been offered scholarships to higher profile institutions.
       On the evening of November 14, 1970, I was in my Twin Towers dorm room listening to the radio. In the middle of a song, the announcer interrupted to deliver the sobering news that the plane believed to be carrying the Marshall University football team had crashed while attempting to land at Tri-State Airport.
       My first thought was of Dennis. Dazed by the news, what transpired during the remainder of that evening remains a blur in my mind. Others who attended Marshall with me and were there on that horrible night have more vivid memories.
       I do have clarity with regard to the funerals and the memorial services that were so emotional that it really can't be put into words. I didn't know any of the boosters or coaches who lost their lives. However, I did have contact with a majority of the players. There were so many great guys on that flight, virtually all of whom had tremendous futures in front of them.
       For me, Dennis Blevins will always stand out because of the kind of guy he was and the warmth that he always exhibited toward me. Dennis wore jersey number 80, but as long as I live, he will always be the 20 year old man— my "home boy"—who I liked and admired.

Lawson Brooks

Lawson Brooks is an independent consultant, writer, and radio talk show host who lives in Washington, DC. His first novel From The Waist Up is available at numerous retail outlets. The Lawson Brooks Show airs on Saturdays at on blog talk radio.