Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Remembering Scottie ... my best friend ... my best man

Author's Note: Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Marshall football plane crash. On this occasion, I decided to write about a very good friend of mine who died on the night of November 14, 1970. While it's true that the people on that flight are long gone, rest assured that they will never be forgotten.

A week after the plane crash, I traveled to Waco, Texas to say my final goodbyes to one of the football  players who were among the 75 passengers who died. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving . At that point in time, though, going home after a long semester to celebrate a holiday was the farthest thing from my bewildered mind.

Scottie Reese, a former teammate, was my best friend. Not only that, but he was going to be the best man at my wedding in December. At best, my recollections of any details about the funeral itself are fuzzy. Don't know why, but it's been that way for quite some time.

Scottie Reese 
(Player profile from the Thundering Herd's 1970 media guide)

"Reese has served as both linebacker and defensive end for Marshall, positions that usually call for more than 185 pounds of football player. He makes up for his lack of size and strength with quickness and intelligence and turned in a very good sophomore season last year. He'll be a contender for a spot somewhere on the defensive unit this time around."

What I remember most is arriving at Toliver Chapel Baptist Church about 45 minutes or so before the start of the service. I took a seat in one of the pews near the front of the sanctuary. All I could do was stare aimlessly at Scottie's casket. It's as if I was in a trance of some kind. Time stood still. Seven days had passed by since the crash when reality finally set in for me.  And when it did, I was crushed to my very core.

Coming to full acceptance was extremely difficult

On top of the casket was Scottie's No. 83 jersey and his portrait. Even then, I was still trying to mentally process all that happened during the week leading up to the funeral. In my mind, like so many others, I was fully aware of what had transpired. But it's quite another matter to come to full acceptance. 

Feeling overwhelmed by a heaviness of sorrow, I realized that No. 83 was gone and he was never going to come back. Ever.

As I looked around the church and then back to Scottie's casket, I had a flashback to eight days earlier. It was the last time that I would ever see Scottie alive. As he was leaving the lobby area of the Twin Towers dorm to get on the team bus headed to the airport, I told him that I would see him when he got back (from the road trip to East Carolina). But right after he walked past the dorm's front entrance, he turned around and looked at me for a second or two.

Everlasting memories

For the most part, this memory has stayed fixed in my mind. But for the life of me, I can't remember what color tie Scottie had on. But I do recall that he wore a black coat with a dress shirt that was Dallas Cowboys-blue. And he wore some pearly-white trousers that he had purchased from a well-known mail-order company from back in the day that offered the latest in fashion for black men.

Every time I think about that last interaction with Scottie, the song "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor always comes to mind. And it's so hard -- if not impossible -- to not get emotional because the lyrics truly do hit home -- especially  the last words from the chorus part of the song.

'But I always thought that I'd see you again.'

We both arrived as freshmen in '68

Scottie and I both played defense. He split time between defensive end and outside linebacker and I played safety. Both of us came to Marshall in 1968 and played key roles on what was arguably the best freshman football team in the school's history. In my one year on the varsity, we were roommates on road trips. 

As a person, Scottie's strongest attributes were his honesty and trustworthiness. That's what I appreciated the most about him.

It's been 47 years since Scottie died and a lot has happened over that span of time. Even so, I have some great memories of him. 

Scottie Reese will always be my best man.

Rest assured, the 1970 Thundering Herd will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reader doesn't understand author's point of view about movie 'We Are Marshall'

When my memoir "November Ever After" had its initial launch, the daily newspaper where I live (Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina), published a column about it. The commentary, entitled "Setting the Marshall Story Straight" got its share of reader comments, which I always welcome and appreciate. 

There was one comment in particular that I felt I needed to address. This one reader could not understand why I feel the movie "We Are Marshall" doesn't do justice to the real story. No doubt, the movie gave the MU story a national stage. But just because a story attracts coast-to-coast interest doesn't set a precedent for distorting what really happened.

Kerrie Barnhart, who just happens to be a Marshall University graduate, was the reader who had a difficult time following my rationale about the movie. Since I'm the book's author,  I certainly had a ready response (see "Author's Counterpoint'). We both attended the same college, but don't know one another and have never met.

 Barnhart's point of view

 “We Are Marshall has a run time of two hours, 11 minutes. The horror of the night of November 14, 1970 took longer than that. There were so many sad, interesting and (eventually) wonderful stories that began that evening, but there's simply no way they could have all been included in a two-hour movie. 

With all due respect to Mr. Greenlee, nearly five years after the release of "WAM," I just don't understand the animosity about decisions that had to be made for a movie's running time.”

 Author's counterpoint

I agree that there’s only such much content that can be squeezed into a movie that lasts a little over two hours. The real issue is not the movie's run time. It’s about making sure that – within the time frame of the film – that the truth be fully acknowledged.

That’s really not too much to ask, especially when you recall this one sentence … “This is a true story.” Those words appear prominently on the screen at the very beginning of the movie.

A college and community dealt with heavy grief

The whole focus of "We Are Marshall" is to show how a college and a city managed to recover from such a horrific experience. Yet, it’s so strange that the movie never gave much information about the seventy-five passengers who died in that plane crash.

If there’s no tragedy, there is no comeback, and hence, no story line.

No film or documentary can truly be all-inclusive. Not many people will sit through a movie that’s longer than two-and-half hours. Books are no different. How many people will read 500, 800 or even 1,000 pages of somebody’s prose? Few, if any.

Here’s the bottom line. The movie pays homage to those who lost their lives on a November night a long time ago. If we’re really serious about that, what better way to honor them than to tell it like it really was?

Tell story thoroughly and tell it well

And even if you can’t include every aspect of the story, no biggie. Just take the content you have and tell it thoroughly, tell it well, and don’t abandon accuracy for the sake of artistic license.

Are the people from back in the day  way off base because they prefer the truth over a conjured up version of what really transpired? I don't think so. Let’s just say that it’s so sad that filmmakers are convinced they can improve the truth by improvising.

The real story is truly marvelous. There's no need for alterations of any kind.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Plane crash story loaded with ironies

The three players from Cincinnati, Ohio who perished in the Marshall
plane crash on November 14 1970. From left to right: Jack Repasy,
Bob Harris and Mark Andrews.
(Graphic -- Always Remembered by Susan A.)
There are a countless number of ironic circumstances associated with the Marshall football plane crash. In this week's blog entry, I'm focusing solely on one of those situations.

The 1970 Thundering Herd had three players – Bob Harris, Jack Repasy and Mark Andrews – who were teammates at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. When Marshall went on a road trip to play East Carolina, the parents of these three players drove south from Ohio to Greenville, North Carolina to watch their sons play.

After the game, Bob Harris Sr. and his wife wanted the three players to ride back with them to the school in Huntington, West Virginia. According to the senior Harris, the three players were reluctant to approach Marshall head coach Ricky Tolley about it.

The Cincinnati threesome played reasonably well in an agonizing 17-14 loss. Andrews was a key factor on the Thundering Herd's defensive line. Harris split time between playing quarterback and wide receiver. Repasy, a proven commodity at receiver, rarely dropped any ball thrown in his direction.

As things turned out, it would be the last time these parents would see their sons. Harris, Repasy and Andrews were among the 75 passengers on the DC-9 jet that crashed into the side of a mountain and burst into flames. There were no survivors.

“They were afraid because the coach was enraged because they had lost the game,” said Harris Sr. during an interview on the ESPN Classic documentary Remembering Marshall (2000). “They just didn’t want to ask him. And that haunts me to this day that I didn’t persist in getting them to ride back with us instead of going on the plane.”

After finishing his comments, tears start to well up in the eyes of the elder Harris. It was a clear sign that his recollections from that horrific November night continued to weigh heavily on his mind.