September 25, 1971- A day when a school football team came back from oblivion and rose from the ashes to win their first football game. Now this was not the school’s first victory ever, but was probably the most important game they ever played. The win was an emotional 15–13 victory against Xavier University in the home opener. Just one week earlier they returned to the field after what was certainly the most devastating blow ever dealt to a football program, to a school, to a city, to a State, and to all of sports.
Marshall University Football team was on its way home from a road game. They were on a chartered flight 932.
Southern Airways Flight 932 was a chartered Southern Airways Douglas DC-9 it was on flight from Stallings Field (ISO) in Kinston, North Carolina to Huntington Tri-State/Milton J. Ferguson Field (HTS) in Ceredo, West Virginia. At 7:35 pm on November 14, 1970, the aircraft crashed into a hill just short of the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board. The plane was carrying 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, four flight crew members and one employee of the charter company. The team was returning home after a 17–14 loss to the East Carolina Pirates at Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina. At the time, Marshall's athletic teams rarely traveled by plane, since most away games were within easy driving distance of the campus. The team originally planned to cancel the flight, but changed plans and chartered the Southern Airways DC-9.
On November 15, 1970 a memorial service was held at the Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse, where there were moments of silence, remembrances and prayers. The following Saturday another Memorial Service was held at Fairfield Stadium. Across the nation many expressed their condolences. Classes at Marshall, along with numerous events and shows by the Marshall Artists Series (and the football team's game against the Ohio Bobcats) were canceled and government offices were closed. A mass funeral was held at the Field House and many were buried at the Spring Hill Cemetery, some together. The remains of six individuals on the plane were never identified.
The impact of the crash on Huntington went far beyond the Marshall campus. Because it was the Herd's only chartered flight of the season, many boosters and prominent citizens were on the plane, including a city councilman, a state legislator and four physicians. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash, with 18 of them left orphaned.
The crash of Flight 932 almost led to the discontinuation of the university's football program. Head coach Rick Tolley was among the crash victims. Jack Lengyel was named to take Tolley's place on March 12, 1971 after Dick Bestwick, the first choice for the job, backed out just after one week and returned to Georgia Tech. Lengyel, who came from a coaching job at the College of Wooster, was hired by recently-hired athletic director Joe McMullen. Lengyel played for McMullen at the University of Akron in the 1950s.
Jack Lengyel, students and Thundering Herd football fans convinced acting Marshall President Dr. Donald N. Dedmon to reconsider in late 1970 eliminating the program. In the weeks afterward Lengyel, aided by receivers coach Red Dawson, a coach from the old staff who had driven back from the East Carolina game due to recruiting duties, began rebuilding the program. They brought together a group of players who were on the junior varsity during the 1970 season, other students and athletes from other sports. Many of these players had never attempted to play football before, and the team only won two games during the 1971 season, against Xavier and Bowling Green. Jack Lengyel led the Thundering Herd to a 9–33 record during his tenure, which ended after the 1974 season.
Marshall University President John G. Barker with Vice-President Donald Dedmon appointed a Memorial Committee soon after the crash. The committee decided upon one major memorial within the campus, a plaque and memorial garden at Fairfield Stadium and a granite cenotaph at the Spring Hill Cemetery; the Memorial Student Center was designated a memorial as well.
On November 12, 1972, the Memorial Fountain was dedicated at the campus entrance to the Memorial Student Center. The sculpture's designer, Harry Bertoia, was an Italian artist who created the $25,000 memorial that incorporated bronze, copper tubing and welding rods. The 6500-pound, 13-foot-high (2900-kilogram, 4-meter-high) sculpture was completed within a year and a half of its conception. Employees from the F.C. McColm Granite Company installed a permanent plaque on the base on August 10, 1973. It reads:
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.
Every year, on the anniversary of the crash, the fountain is shut off at the exact time of the crash and not activated again until the following spring.
Each year on the anniversary of the crash, those who died are mourned in a ceremony on the Marshall University campus in Huntington, West Virginia. A number of the victims are buried in a grave site in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington; 20th Street, the road that leads from the cemetery to the campus, was renamed to Marshall Memorial Boulevard in their honor.
On November 11, 2005, the We Are Marshall Memorial Bronze was dedicated. The bronze 17×23-foot (5×7-meter) statue was created by artist Burl Jones of Sissonville and cost $150,000. It is based upon ideas by John and Ann Krieger of Huntington. It was donated to the university by Marshall fans and is attached to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium on the west facade. It was unveiled to thousands only 90 minutes before the game with Miami University.
On December 11, 2006, a memorial plaque was dedicated at the plane crash site. The ceremony featured guest speakers William "Red" Dawson and Jack Hardin. The Ceredo and Kenova fire departments were recognized at the event.
The memorial plaque reads:
On Nov. 14, 1970, 75 people died in the worst sports related air tragedy in U.S. history, when a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside nearby.
The victims included 37 Marshall University football players, 8 coaches and administrators, 25 fans and air crew of 5.
No one survived this horrific disaster.
Another plaque memorializing the 1970 Marshall football team was unveiled at East Carolina University on the same day and can be seen at the guest team entrance of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Featured speakers were Chancellor Steve Ballard, Athletic Director Terry Holland, Pirates’ broadcaster Jeff Charles, and Marshall President Stephen Kopp.
A memorial bell tower is being planned for a location on WV 75 near Exit 1 along Interstate 64
So one may ask why after such devastating event that took such an enormous physical and mental toll as well as loss of life, would they continue to play? Well they almost didn’t. They were one meeting away from extinction when the University decided not to eliminate the program.
Marshall is a football school, with a unique and rich tradition. The Thundering Herd won conference titles in 1925, 1928, 1931, 1937, 1988, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. Additionally, Marshall won NCAA I-AA National Championships in 1992 and 1996, and the Thundering Herd were the I-AA national runner-up in 1987, 1991, 1993 and 1995. In 1997, Marshall returned to the highest level of college football, becoming a member of the Mid-American Conference. Since that move, the Herd has played in eight bowl games (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2009), with a record of 6–2.
Marshall has sent several alums to the NFL, including past and present stars Chad Pennington, Troy Brown, Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich and Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank "Gunner" Gatski. Other former Thundering Herd stars of note who have gone on to play in the NFL include: three-time Pro Bowl defensive back Carl Lee, Pro Bowl long snapper/tight end Mike Bartrum, Chris Crocker, Steve Sciullo, Darius Watts, Chris Massey, John Wade, Johnathan Goddard, Eric Kresser and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Former Marshall lineman Frank Gatski was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, joining Joe Namath, Roger Staubach and Pete Rozelle in the class of inductees that year. Gatski is the only Marshall player to have his jersey number retired and is Marshall's only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The university retired Gatski's No. 72 during a halftime ceremony at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on October 15, 2005. The 31st Street Bridge, connecting Huntington to Proctorville, Ohio, is also named in Gatki's honor, joining U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (formerly the Sixth St. Bridge) and Congressman Nick Rahall (the former 17th St. Bridge) among three structures stretching across the Ohio River from West Virginia to Ohio.
After it was decided to keep the program going, they were essentionaly starting over The team was rebuilt with Jack Lengyel as the new head coach. The leaders of the "Young Thundering Herd" (to which the team officially changed its name for the 1971 season) were the few players who didn't make the trip due to injury or disciplinary action. There were 15 sophomores on the team from the previous year's freshman team, and the bulk of the team was composed of freshmen players who were allowed to play on the varsity squad due to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college football's governing body, waiving a rule prohibiting it. Three years later, it would waive the rule for all schools. Rounding out the squad were players from other Marshall sports programs. They would win only two games that year. Their first win was an emotional 15–13 victory against Xavier University in the home opener. Their second win, in their homecoming game, was against a better, ranked team: the Bowling Green State University Falcons.
Remember and Honor Them All
Marshall University Football Team Players:
James Michael Adams, of Mansfield, Ohio – Guard
Mark Raeburn Andrews, of Cincinnati, Ohio - Offensive Guard
Mike Francis Blake, of Huntington, West Virginia - Linebacker
Dennis Michael Blevins, of Bluefield, West Virginia - Wide Receiver
Willie Bluford Jr., of Greenwood, South Carolina - Wide receiver
Larry Brown, of Atlanta, Georgia - Defensive Guard
Thomas Wayne Brown, of Richmond, Virginia - Defensive Guard
Roger Keith Childers, of St. Albana, West Virginia
Stuart Spence Cottrell, of Eustis, Florida - Defensive Back
Richard Lee Dardinger, of Mount Vernon, Ohio - Center
David Grant DeBord, of Quincy, Florida - Offensive Tackle
Kevin Francis Gilmore, of Harrison, New Jersey - Halfback
David Dearing Griffith, Jr, of Clarksville, Virginia - Defensive End
Arthur W. Harris, of Passaic, New Jersey - Halfback
Robert Anthony Harris, of Cincinnati, Ohio - Quarterback
Bob Wayne Hill, of Dallas, Texas - Defensive Back
Joe Lee Hood, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Halfback
James Thomas Howard Jr., of Milton, West Virginia - Offensive Guard
Marcelo H. Lajterman, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey - Kicking Specialist
Richard Adam Lech, of Columbus, Ohio - Defensive Back
Barry Winston Nash, of Accoville, West Virginia - Tight End
Patrick Jay Norrell, of Hartsdale, New York - Offensive Guard
James Robert Patterson, of Louisburg, North Carolina - Offensive Tackle
Scottie Lee Reese, of Waco, Texas - Defensive End
John Anton Repasy Jr., of Cincinnati, Ohio - Wide Reciever
Larry Sanders, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Defensive Back
Charles Alan "Al" Saylor, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio - Defensive End
Arthur Kirk Shannon, of Greensboro, North Carolina - Linebacker
Lionel Ted Shoebridge, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey - Quarterback
Allen Gene Skeens, of Ravenswood, West Virginia - Center
Jerry Dodson Stainback, of Newport News, Virginia - Linebacker
Donald Tackett, Jr., of Paden City, West Virginia
Robert James Van Horn, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Tackle
Roger Arnie Vanover, of Russell, Kentucky - Defensive End
Freddie Clay Wilson, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Tackle
John Patton Young, of Buckhannon, West Virginia - Tight End
Thomas Jonathan Zborill, of Richmond, Virginia - Defensive End
MU Coaching Staff
Herbert B. (Deke) Brackett
Albert C. Carelli Jr - athletic director
Frank Loria - Defensive Backs coach
James M. Moss II
Rickey D. Tolley - Head football coach
MU Supporters and Staff
Charles Arnold, of Huntington, West Virginia
Rachel Lynette Arnold, of Huntington, West Virginia
Donald Booth - Movie cameraman
Dr. Joseph Chambers, of Huntington, West Virginia - Local physician
Margaret Chambers, of Huntington, West Virginia
Gary Wilson George - Team Statistician
Dr. Ray Hagley, of Huntington, West Virginia - Local physician
Shirley Ann Hagley, of Huntington, West Virginia
Arthur L. Harris, of Passaic, New Jersey - Father of player Art Harris
E.O. "Happy" Heath, of Huntington, West Virginia
Elaine Lois Heath, of Huntington, West Virginia
James Jarrell, of Huntington, West Virginia
Cynthia Scott Leslie Jarrell, of Huntington, West Virginia
Kenneth Jones, of Huntington, West Virginia - WHTN-TV sports director
Charles E. Kautz - Athletic director of Marshall University
Eugene J. Morehouse - sports information director
Jeffrey P. Nathan, of Parksburg, West Virginia - sports editor of MU's student newspaper
Dr. Brian R. O'Connor, of Huntington, West Virginia - admissions director of Marshall University
Michael R. Prestera, delegate-elect to the West Virginia Legislature
Dr. Glenn Preston, of Huntington, West Virginia - Local dentist
Phyllis Jean Charles Preston, of Huntington, West Virginia
Dr. Herbert D. Proctor, of Huntington, West Virginia
Courtney Phillips Proctor, of Huntington, West Virginia
Murrill Ralsten, of Huntington, West Virginia - City councilman
Helen Ralsten, of Huntington, West Virginia
James Joseph Schroer - Head Trainer
Parker Ward, of Huntington, West Virginia
Norman Weichmann - Movie cameraman
Danny Deese, of Altanta, Georgia - Charter coordinator
The Flight Crew of Southern Airways Flight 932:
Captain Frank H. Abbott, Jr. , aged 47, was employed by Southern Airways, Inc., on July 21, 1949. He held airline transport pilot certificate No. 507765 with ratings in DC-3, DC-4, DC-9 and M-202/404, and commercial privileges in single-engine land airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with airplane and instrument ratings, had accumulated approximately 18, 557 total flying hours, including 2,194 hours in the DC-9. He completed his last proficiency check on October 14, 1970, and his FAA first-class medical certificate was issued on October 22, 1970, with the limitation that the holder shall wear correcting lenses while exercising the privileges of the certificate.
He lived in College Park, Maryland.
First Officer Jerry R. Smith, aged 28, was employed by Southern Airways, Inc., on April 12, 1965. He held commercial pilot certificate No. 1581568 with airplane single-engine land and instrument ratings. He had accumulated approximately 5, 872 total flying hours, including 1,196 hours in the DC-9. He completed his last proficiency check on July 14, 1970, and his FAA first-class medical certificate was issued on November 5, 1969, without limitations. It was still valid as a second-class medical certificate at the time of the accident.
He lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia
Stewardess Pat Vaught was employed by Southern Airways, Inc., on June 11, 1962. Her last recurrent training was completed on October 21, 1970.
She lived in East Point, Georgia.
Stewardess Charlene Poat was employed by Southern Airways, Inc., on March 28, 1964. Her last recurrent training was completed on October 22, 1970.
She lived in College Park, Maryland.