Monday, October 31, 2011

NC columnist: 'Setting the Marshall story straight'

       It’s always been my belief that the memoir November Ever After has unlimited appeal. Yes, the story of the 1970 Marshall University football plane crash has special meaning to anyone with a connection to the school and/or the state of West Virginia.
       Even so, the story’s appeal transcends Marshall and the “Mountain State.”
       In today’s blog entry, newspaper columnist Scott Sexton gives his take on the Marshall saga and book author Craig T. Greenlee. Click on the link below to read this column, which ran in the Winston-Salem Journal (NC) on October 23.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Aftermath: A cry of anguish on a college campus

       Editor’s Note: The following quote came from Marshall University’s student body president in the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash. (Source: Chief Justice yearbook, 1970-71 school year).

       "There is no one untouched. 
There is no one who can hear 
of this and not feel sorrow and grief. 
And we, the students, 
feel the pain so deeply
that we cry …
and cry …
and wonder how, and why."

Michael Gant
Marshall University
Student Body President

Saturday, October 29, 2011

TONIGHT: Guest appearance on sports talk show

       The author of the memoir November Ever After is set to make a guest appearance tonight on a blog talk radio podcast. Veteran sports journalist Craig T. Greenlee will discuss his book on Three Point Stance: The Leatherheads College Football Hour, which airs on Saturdays from 9-10 p.m. EST. Host Pete Sonski is joined by co-host Joe Williams
       The show is divided into two segments. The first 30 minutes is a recap of today’s college football games and news. Greenlee’s live interview is scheduled for the show’s guest segment, which comes on the air tonight (10-29) at 9:30.
      Greenlee is a former Marshall University defensive back who played in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. He was in school at the time of the plane crash that killed most of the football team. As a former teammate, he knew most of the players who were on the plane. After the crash, Greenlee rejoined the team to take part in the rebuilding efforts in the spring of ’71.
       To listen in, click on the following link:

       Care to comment or share an observation? Call (619) 639-4706.

Friday, October 28, 2011

1970 team won its final game at Fairfield Stadium

QB Bob Harris passed for 100 yards vs. Kent State.
       The 1970 Marshall football team suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in the last game it would ever play – a 17-14 road loss to East Carolina.
       What’s often overlooked is that a week before the November 14th plane crash, the Thundering Herd gave the crowd at Fairfield Stadium much to cheer about with a 20-17 comeback win over Kent State. It was the Herd’s final home game for that season.
       The victory, which snapped a four-game losing streak, generated renewed optimism that Marshall was due to experience better days. MU’s record improved to 3-5 with two games left on the schedule. If the Herd could post back-to-back road wins, it would guarantee a break-even season. Pulling that off would have been a coupe of sorts. Marshall had not finished a season at .500 or better since 1965.
       Joe Hood led a revived ground attack that chewed up the Golden Flashes for 232 rushing yards. Hood, a gifted sophomore, finished with 122 yards on 24 carries. He scored what proved to be the game-winner on a 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The Herd trailed 14-10 at the half.
       Backup quarterback Bob Harris, in the third start of his varsity career, connected on 10 of 18 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown. Place-kicker Marcello Lajterman added two field goals.
       Cornerback Larry Sanders led the defense with 12 tackles. Tom Brown and Art Shannon finished with 10 tackles each.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'You could see the tragedy etched in his face .....'

       Carter Taylor Seaton didn’t have to think twice about the offer. Marshall University’s Alumni Association asked Seaton, an award-winning sculptor, to create a bust of Nate Ruffin, a former Thundering Herd cornerback.
       Ruffin was one of the few players who missed the tragic plane flight that killed most of Marshall’s football team on November 14, 1970. He didn’t make the road trip to East Carolina because of an arm injury.
Carter Taylor Seaton
      On the night the MU plane went down, Ruffin helped in notifying the parents and loved ones of those who were passengers on the Southern Airways DC-9 jet. The day after, he helped identify bodies from the crash. As the Herd began the process of resurrecting its football program from scratch, Nate provided some much-needed emotional stability for a team composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores.
      After graduating from Marshall, Nate served as a human resources and community relations executive for several organizations. His professional pursuits, however, never diminished his passion for Thundering Herd football. He was an avid supporter and was deeply involved as a member of several boards and search committees at Marshall.
       Ruffin passed away in October 2001 of leukemia.
       A year ago, a sports lounge housed in the school’s newly-constructed Erickson Alumni Center was named in honor of Ruffin. The bust of Ruffin was unveiled during dedication ceremonies as part of a reception that was jointly sponsored by the school’s alumni organization and the Black Alumni of MU.
       Seaton, a Marshall graduate, was around at the time of the crash, so she’s very familiar with the story. “I was grateful to accept the job,” Seaton said. “I was just thrilled to get the opportunity.”
       There were challenges that Seaton encountered before completing this project. Pictures of Nate were not easy to come by. A photo from the school’s yearbook and the sports information office were helpful. But what Seaton needed most was a profile shot, which would help her to accurately re-create Nate as a three-dimensional figure. Eventually, she found a profile at Marshall’s Hall of Fame CafĂ©. “Having a profile makes a huge difference in the way you portray the facial features,” she said. “Without it, you can’t really get those features in the right perspective.”
       As it turned out, the profile shot was even more helpful because of what it revealed to the scrutinizing eye of the sculptor. The profile shot was taken in ’71, a year after the crash. It was the season in which Ruffin took charge as the undisputed leader of the “Young Thundering Herd.”
       “The look in Nate’s face was so different from the look he had as a young freshman,” Seaton said about the profile shot. “It was really heart-breaking. You could see the tragedy etched in his face, around his eyes in particular. It (profile) just didn’t look like the same guy. You could tell that the plane crash had a tremendous impact on him.”
       After finishing the project, Seaton still desired additional confirmation that the bust represented a recognizable likeness of Ruffin. So, she called on Red Dawson to give an unbiased assessment. Dawson, one of three Marshall assistant coaches on the ’70 team who were not on the plane that night, had known Nate from the time he first arrived at MU in 1968. Any doubts Seaton had about the quality of her re-creation were put to rest when Dawson “pronounced it good.”

Carter Taylor Seaton is an award-winning sculptor and author who lives in Huntington, West Virginia. For more information, visit

Radio interview set for news talk show today

       Author Craig T. Greenlee is scheduled to appear on The Triad’s First News show today on WSJS-600 AM in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Greenlee will talk with host J.R. Snider about his recently-released memoir November Ever After. The live interview is set to air sometime between 9:30 and 10 a.m. (EST). To listen live on the Internet, go to at the designated interview time and click on “Listen Live” in the box located at the top right-hand portion of your computer screen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A note of thanks from Herd fans in New Jersey

        I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book.  I am about to read it again.  My wife Debbie and I met you and your Mrs. at the Marshall University Bookstore signing during Homecoming weekend.
       We're from New Jersey, became Marshall fans after seeing the movie We Are Marshall, and have been making an annual visit to see a game ever since. I was 16 years old when the crash happened, and I remember riding in the family car with my dad when the news came over the radio. 
       The movie rekindled that memory for me, and things snowballed from there. I started researching the history of the football program, sent away for some fan gear, and then our yearly trips began. 
       The film really hit an emotional chord with us, but from the start, I kind of figured that the filmmakers “Hollywoodized” it. With few exceptions, that’s often the case with fact-based stories that make it to the screen. 
       The movie will always hold a special place in our hearts, but just as important to us are the true, behind-the-scenes stories of what took place during that tragic time, such as the one you have presented in November Ever After. Thanks very much for writing it, Mr. Greenlee, and for enlightening us all. 
       Take care.

All the best,
John & Debbie Bacha

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book signing: memorable for all the right reasons

Photo by Cynthia J. Greenlee

        Here’s my confession.
        I really didn’t know what to expect from my first-ever book signing event. Looking back on it all, the timing and location couldn’t have been better – Homecoming Day at my alma mater, Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
       There was never a doubt in my mind that people would come out and show their support. What caught me by complete surprise was the overflow of former schoolmates and well-wishers who showed up at the on-campus bookstore to get an autographed copy of November Ever After. The book is a collaborative account of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the school’s football team. These collective recollections are told from the perspective of those who were left behind.
       I spent about two hours signing books, taking pictures and exchanging hugs and dap handshakes. And then, all of a sudden, the books were gone. By the time the last available book was purchased, the scheduled four-hour event still had 90 minutes remaining.
       That scenario didn’t stop people from asking more questions about the book’s future availability and where it could be purchased online. And while there were no more books that I could autograph at that juncture, I did fill several requests to put my signature on the back of the promotional business cards for the book.
       What I’ll always remember is the clear confirmation about the appeal that November Ever After has. True, it’s a story that revolves mostly around the black students who were in school at the time of the 1970 air tragedy. But there’s so much more to the story than that.
       Bottom line … the memoir touches hearts. If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t have been such a wide cross-section of people who took the time to attend the event. In talking to those who came out, I discovered that their interest in the book had nothing to do with age, gender, culture, or ethnicity. People like reading a good story, and the book has all the requisite elements to meet that criteria.
       To the Marshall University family I say thank you for the love, the warmth, and the genuine encouragement and support.
       It’s greatly appreciated ..... more than you’ll ever know.

Media watch ... book author on the air

  •  Saturday, October 22: Craig T. Greenlee, the author of the memoir November Ever After recently conducted an interview for a college football pre-game radio show. The interview will air prior to the start of the Conference USA match-up between visiting Marshall University and the University of Houston. Greenlee’s interview is set to air sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) on the “The Tailgate Show”, which is the pre-game show for MU football. The writer talks with host Steve Cotton, the veteran play-by-play announcer for the Thundering Herd. Kickoff time for Saturday’s contest is 4:30 p.m. ‘The Tailgate Show” airs on 20 affiliate stations in West Virginia. The show, along with press conferences and live game action, can also be heard on the Internet by those who are subscribers to Conference USA’s all-access Digital Network.
  • Saturday, October 29: Greenlee will discuss his book during an extended interview on blog talk radio in the coming days. The former Marshall defensive back is the designated special guest for the sports talk show Three Point Stance: The Leatherheads College Football Hour (airs on Saturdays 9-10 p.m. EST). The show is hosted by Pete Sonski. Greenlee’s interview is scheduled to begin around 9:30 p.m. Visit and type the words “Three Point Stance” in the search box located near the top of the computer screen. Next, go to the third column, which is labeled “On Air/Upcoming.” Click on the “remind me” box for the 10/29/11 show. As time for the show nears, you’ll get a reminder of the day and time of the show.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Today's video presentation: In retrospect ...

    Homecoming Day book signing at Marshall U.

    A memoir of tragedy and triumph 

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

    Saturday, October 15, 2011
    10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Marshall University Bookstore
    located inside the Memorial Student Center
    One John Marshall Drive
    Huntington, WVa. 25755 (Website) (Blog)

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    A retired pilot's recollections about Tri-State Airport

            Forty-something years after the fact, there is still no definitive conclusion regarding the exact cause of the Marshall airplane crash on November 14, 1970.
           According to the final report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board, the two most likely explanations for the accident were:
    • Improper use of cockpit instrumentation data, or ;
    • Altimetry system error.
    In layman’s terms, it was either the instruments that malfunctioned; or it was a case in which the pilot and first officer misinterpreted the data provided by the instruments.
           The site of the crash, Tri-State Airport, is only minutes away from downtown Huntington, West Virginia. Like most airports in West Virginia, Tri-State sits on top of a mountain.
           Mason Linker Jr., a retired commercial airlines pilot, has a familiarity with Tri-State Airport that others don’t. Linker, a pilot with Piedmont Airlines for thirty years, conservatively estimates that he flew in and out of Tri-State at least fifty times during his career.
           For three decades, Linker flew in and out of airports as far north as Boston and as far south as Florida.  He noted that terrain is one of the factors that pilots must consider as they prepare to bring a plane in for a landing. “Some days it was a snap, on other days it wasn’t,” said Linker, referring to landing a plane at Tri-State. “I experienced more wind turbulence in landing planes in West Virginia. A 15 knots wind in Florida seemed to create less turbulence than 15 knots at a West Virginia airport, and it’s probably due to terrain.”
            Weather conditions on the night of the crash were far from ideal for landing a jet plane on a relatively short runway. The presence of rain and fog, however, weren’t nearly as critical as the absence of a glide slope at Tri-State Airport.
            A glide slope transmits a signal to the aircraft to help the pilot make sure that the plane descends at the right angle. Due to budget constraints and the absence of large portions of level land, Tri-State Airport did not have a glide slope as part of its Instrument Landing System. With no glide slope, the landing was considered a non-precision instrument approach.” The airport was allowed to operate without a glide slope, but without it, pilots had one less tool for landing safely.
           “It’s an aid that we really needed,” said Linker. “Landing a plane without the use of a glide slope is very challenging, regardless of whether the airport sits on a mountain or whether it’s at sea level. When you add adverse weather conditions to the mix, the degree of difficulty is even greater. It’s a lot more challenging.”
           No one knows exactly what happened with the Southern Airways DC-9 jet and why it flew at such a low altitude at the time it started its approach to the runway. As the plane made its descent, it hit some trees on a mountain ridge before crashing nose-first into the side of the mountain. There was an explosion on impact.
           Eye-witnesses who were interviewed for the documentary Ashes to Glory, remembered how odd it looked for such a huge plane to be flying so low to the ground. As they stood at ground level, these witnesses said they could actually see the windows on the plane.
           Given Linker’s expertise as a pilot and his knowledge about flying in and out of Tri-State, you’d think that he wouldn’t mind offering an opinion on what might have happened that night.
           “It’s been my experience that when I give an opinion, it turns out that I’m wrong a lot of the time,” he said. “That’s why I decline to speculate.”

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    There was a time when hoops was king (Part 2)

          Continued from last Friday …….
           I am remiss because I failed to fill in some of the blanks about Hal Greer’s connection to Marshall University basketball in my last blog entry. Greer attended Marshall (1955-58) and was the first black athlete in the state of West Virginia to play for a major college. He was also the first black to attend Marshall on an athletic scholarship.
    Hal Greer played 15 seasons in the NBA.
          The best of Greer, however, was not fully showcased until after he turned pro. He never made first-team All-NBA during his career. Yet, he was widely acknowledged as one of the elite players of the ‘60s. Only two other guards – legends Oscar Robertson and fellow West Virginian Jerry West – were considered to be better.
           Even though Greer never won any league MVP awards, his NBA legacy is undeniable. In pro basketball’s golden anniversary year of ’96, Greer was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players
           As a player, Greer’s defining trademark was a dead-eye jump shot from the top of the key. He was so “on-the-money” with his jumper that he shot “the j” whenever he shot free throws. This was not an orthodox way of doing things. But it worked well for Hal Greer. For his 15-year career, he hit 80 percent from the foul line.
           The former Marshall star was a prime-time figure on a Philadelphia 76ers team that featured Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham. During the ’66-’67 season, Greer led the Sixers to one of the best finishes in league history. Greer & Company went 68-13 that season. The only teams to fare better in a single season: Michael Jordan’s Bulls (72-10 in ’95-‘96) and Chamberlain’s Lakers (69-13 in ’71-‘72).      
           In the spring of ’67, Philly slam-dunked the despised Boston Celtics in the playoffs to end their eight-year championship run. The Sixers followed up by dominating the San Francisco Warriors to win the NBA title. Greer averaged 27.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the playoffs. He scored 21,586 points during his career which still stands as a 76ers franchise record.
           In a 2006 article published in Hoop Magazine, Cunningham commented on Greer’s accuracy as a jump-shooter. “It (jumper) was as good as anybody’s who ever played the game,” said Cunningham, the sixth man on Philly’s championship team. “I think the beauty of Hal Greer’s game is that he knew where he was most effective and he never shot the ball from an area where he was not completely confident and comfortable. He never went outside of 18-20 feet maximum, but he was deadly and he had the ability to get to that spot.”
           Greer’s presence and excellence at Marshall set a standard, which paved the way for the black athletes who would come to MU in later years.

    Calendar of upcoming events for book author

           Saturday, October 15, Huntington, WVa. : Homecoming Day book signing at Marshall University; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marshall University Bookstore (located inside the Memorial Student Center). Address: One Marshall Drive, Huntington, WVa. 25755. Open to the public.
           Saturday, November 12, Winston-Salem, NC: Book signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers from 4 to 6 p.m. Address: 1925 Hampton Inn Court, Winston-Salem, NC 27103. Open to the public.

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Once upon a time, hoops was the undisputed king

           Given the success of football at Marshall in the 1990s, it might be hard to believe that there was a time when a sport other than football was the centerpiece for Thundering Herd athletics.
           The 1990s was a golden era. It was a decade in which Marshall won more football games than any other college in America. During that stretch, the Herd won a couple of national championships and a fair share of bowl games.
    Russell Lee
           Even so, there was a time – back in the day – when basketball was king. In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Marshall was a beast on the hardwood. The Herd made back-to-back appearances in the National Invitational Tournament, and got as far as the semifinal round in ‘68. Playing in the NIT was a big deal in those days. It was known as the crown jewel of basketball tournaments. The NCAA Tournament had not attained the status it has today as the showcase event for college hoops.
           Football, by contrast, struggled to keep its head above water. For the most part, Herd football during the ‘60s, ‘70s and half of the ‘80s was known for futility, frustration and defeat.
           Now that you’ve been brought up to speed on that bit of MU sports history, let’s punch the rewind button on the DVD machine and go back to the 1971-72 basketball season when Marshall went 23-4 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
           The Herd ranked as high as eighth in the national polls, and finished up No. 12 in the country in final poll – the highest ever ranking for Marshall hoops. The season ended in a disappointing 112-101 loss to Southwest Louisiana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The ’71-’72 team is arguably MU’s best. Some will beg to differ and point to Cam Henderson’s ’47 squad that won 32 games and the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament, which is the school’s only national championship in basketball. The NAIB is more like today’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
           The Herd has its share of blue-chippers on the ’71-’72 squad who left their mark. Some are still at the top of the list in the MU record books
    • Mike D’Antoni – Smooth point guard holds the school’s single-season record for assists (241). He played four seasons with the NBA’s Kansas City Kings before going to Europe where he attained icon status as a championship-winning player and coach in the Italian League. D’Antoni is the head coach of the New York Knicks and before that, he was the coach for the Phoenix Suns.
    • Russell Lee – Named All-American in ’72. Backcourt ace played out of position as a center at 6-feet-5 inches. Drafted No. 1 by the Milwaukee Bucks in the ’72 NBA Draft. Here’s an interesting side bar note about that year’s draft. The Bucks had two No. 1 picks that year. They chose Lee over a player from the University of Massachusetts – Julius Erving, who became the legendary Doctor J. Erving didn’t sign with Milwaukee. He opted to sign with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. Lee played with the Bucks and the New Orleans Jazz during a three-season career.
    • Tyrone Collins – Exceptional mid-range shooter had a football linebacker’s physique (6-feet-3 inches, 218 pounds). Collins, a swing player, delivered instant offense coming off the bench. He’s the most accurate shooter to ever wear a Marshall uniform. During his varsity career (’70-’73), Collins shot an eye-popping 58.7 percent from the field. That’s an outstanding percentage when you consider that Collins was not a low-post player who scored most of his points in the paint.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Crash gave birth to world-wide evangelical ministry

           Those who have any familiarity with the Marshall air crash know all about Ed Carter’s amazing story. Carter missed the fatal flight because of a prophetic warning from his mother several days before the tragedy occurred.
    Dr. Ed Carter
           What most folks don’t know is how the crash gave birth to a global evangelistic outreach organization – Death Unto Life Ministries. Prior to his graduation from Marshall in 1974, Ed got saved and answered the call to preach the Gospel. A few years later, he became the founder of Death Unto Life, which is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
           Today, Death Unto Life Ministries, which is also heavily involved in missions, is as vibrant as ever in its 35th year of operation. During that time, Ed has preached to audiences all across the United States and around the world. To get a clearer understanding of Ed’s journey since the night of November 14, 1970, just take a look at a sampling of the ministry’s literature, which illustrates some of the struggles Ed faced prior to his acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Here’s an excerpt:
                      The year 1974 was a big year for Ed in more ways than one.
                 All of the time he had been thinking about his whole life passing
                 before him. Before, Ed was trying to run from God. He would pray,
                 but only so that he could win football games and get the passing
                 grades he needed for graduation. But God was trying to get through
                 to him, even then.
                       “Why I remember, I used to see church buses on campus on
                 Sunday morning, and I felt something inside me pulling me toward
                 them, but I didn’t go,” Carter said. “Instead, I hid from those
                 buses. Can you believe that? I actually hid from those church
           God’s hand moved mightily in Ed’s ministry. Not long after the former MU lineman got saved, he started to preach. A number of churches in West Virginia invited him to speak to their congregations. In several instances, some of the pulpits he occupied had never been open to a black minister.
           Ed is keenly aware that Divine orchestration was the reason why he received so many invitations to speak. In a ministry brochure Ed wrote:

                        Now I live day-by-day with my faith. God has promised
                  tomorrow to no man, so I never look further than today. God
                  spared me, He gave me a testimony and opportunities to spread
                  His Word. My only goal in life now is to be a witness for Christ.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Is writer's view based on guilt or personal pain?

          Author’s Note: I was recently asked a question by someone who has read the memoir November Ever After. The question: Having quit the team the year before the crash, is the perspective you present in your book rooted in guilt or personal pain? For me, there is no “cut-to-the-chase” answer. So, I readily acknowledge that this question did give me cause to pause. This is how I see it.

    The author from back in the day.

           As strange as this may sound to some people, I have never had guilt feelings about not being on that plane in 1970. I made a clean break from football when I left the team at the end of my sophomore season in 1969. Once I walked away, there was no second-guessing on my part, no regrets about me no longer being a college jock. I never had any thoughts about putting the pads on again.
          I was not a member of the team in 1970, and that was by choice. There was no spring practice for me in the spring of ’70, and I wasn’t around when pre-season drills started in August of that year. I truly enjoyed my life as a “regular” student.  It never bothered me that I quit football, a game I had played since the time of my single-digit birthdays.  
           When you’re a college athlete in a team sport like football or basketball, there’s a unique kinship that exists among the players. Through all the team meetings, wind sprints, tackling drills, scrimmages, games, team meals and study halls, you become part of something that transcends what you desire to accomplish as an individual.
           This unique bond is further fortified because your teammates are the people you spend most of your time with – on and off the field. As a former teammate, there still was a deep connection, but I no longer shared in that kinship, and that was OK.
           To some degree, November Ever After was written from a perspective of personal pain, but there’s more to it than that. For me, it has a lot to do with sorting through inner feelings and getting some closure.
           Writing this memoir has helped, but for now, getting closure is still an unfinished process. As I write more blog entries and conduct more media interviews, I find myself reflecting a lot more on my college past than I ever have.
           Do I ever wonder why I wasn’t on that plane over 40 years ago?
           Rarely, if ever.
           But this is what I do know.
           It’s by God’s grace that I’m still on this earth. And who’s to say? It’s quite possible that one of the reasons my life was spared was to write the memoir November Ever After. If you knew more about the story behind my book, perhaps you’ll agree. But that’s another topic for another time.