The motion picture We Are Marshall, about events surrounding the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team, elicits poignant memories for those of us who were part of the Marshall family at the time.
For years, under the structure of public education in West Virginia, all schools - primary, secondary and college - were under the state Department of Education, except West Virginia University, which had its own Board of Visitors. The majority of the state legislators had attended WVU, of course.
AS A RESULT of these circumstances, WVU was generally well-supported by the legislature, while the other state colleges, including Marshall, had to struggle along on the meager funding the legislature provided for public education in West Virginia. In the late 1960s, the establishment of a Board of Regents for all colleges and universities in West Virginia gave hope to Marshall and the other state colleges for more equitable financial support.
Adding insult to serious injury, Marshall had, at that time, the longest losing streak in NCAA Division I football.
The Marshall family, administration, faculty, students and supporters made an intentional decision to rebuild the football team with the hope that better publicity for the football program would result in more positive press coverage generally. This would result in a more favorable general image for the college and enhanced support from the legislature, the new Board of Regents and the public.
The new football team showed promise of respectability. Students, faculty, administration and boosters were heartened, and hopes for better days for football, academic funding and facility development ran high. The team was a symbol of hope.
When the plane hit the treetops, just short of the end of the runway at Huntington, W.Va., that night, those of us in the Marshall family lost loved ones, friends, neighbors, colleagues and students. The hope that the team represented, for a fair deal for Marshall, was crushed.
BUT HOPE IS ever-vital, and grows anew from the ashes of grief. The Marshall family grieved and honored those whom we had lost, and began again to build for the future. The Marshall story is a story of hope and determination.
(Editor's note: The writer, a North Augusta, S.C., resident, was an assistant engineering professor at Marshall from 1968 to 1974.)
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