Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Q&A: Cheerleader's recollections ... Part II

In today’s Q&A interview, Carol Richardson McCullough shares her insights and memories about her time at Marshall University in the years following the plane crash (1972-76). She is a Marshall graduate and former Thundering Herd cheerleader.

       Q: What are your memories from the night of the Marshall University football plane crash?
       A: Many moons have passed, but I mainly remember what a terribly stormy night it was on November 14, 1970. The rain fell hard in Charleston, West Virginia, to the point that I was mildly concerned about my parents who were out for the evening.
       I was watching television when the crawl (about the crash) came across the bottom of the screen. I was stunned. I remember tears welling up swiftly as the magnitude of the loss sank in. For some reason, I tend to feel a strong sense of empathy for others when I know they hurt badly. There are times when I cry at movies, and lately when reading books, if the book is well written.  
       Q: Now that you’ve read November Ever After, does it help you to have a better understanding of why you never heard any discussions about the tragedy?
       A: I do have a better feel for reasons for the silence on the subject of the crash. Most likely everyone just tried to “soldier on” and push themselves through the daily activities of college life. They probably placed that horrific pain way back, deep inside their own minds. That way, they were able to pull out memories at such times when their psyches could process and handle it. Back then, people didn't talk about things. At least, black people didn't. If you had a problem, you kept it to yourself and did your best to work through it. As was stated in November Ever After, there were no grief counselors, no studies in post-traumatic stress. There was pot, and booze, and sometimes sex masquerading as love, which was used to try and patch the holes in the hearts of some of those who were left behind...or so I would imagine.
       Q: Were you surprised to find out that there were issues about Debbie (Bailey-Bowen) being the school’s first black cheerleader?
       A: I was quite surprised. I knew the “firstie” would most likely face a racial mountain, but I did not realize the squad wasn't integrated until 1970. Public schools in Charleston integrated in 1957 or so. I first cheered in junior high school, in the seventh grade circa '67 on an “integrated” squad at an integrated school. I do remember some concern about Huntington not being as progressive as Charleston ...crosses being burned on the highways connecting the two cities and that sort of thing. I owe Debbie a debt of gratitude for paving the way for me. My time on the squad at Marshall was a lot of fun, and I was never made to feel like an outsider. I'm glad the football players were protective of Debbie, and that they demanded that she be given a genuine opportunity to earn a place on the squad.
       Q: It’s been over forty-one years since the crash. What are your thoughts about it now?
       A: I can only imagine what it would have felt like to lose so many close friends and associates in an instant—and then to have to find a way to carry on...Those Marshall days were extraordinary, and the young men and women who lived through that time period and beyond were tested by fire... and they came out golden.

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