HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The greatest comeback story in the history of sports is how Marshall University Athletic Director Mike Hamrick described the events of November 14, 1970, and the weeks, months and years following that date in the school’s community.
Thursday marked the 49th anniversary of a Southern Airways flight crashing near Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 on-board including members of the Marshall football team, coaches, administrators, fans and the flight crew.
Marshall held its annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony Thursday afternoon to honor the victims of the crash, to tell the story and to embrace what the school has done since.
“It’s our duty, all of us, to continue to tell their stories so they live on forever through us. We must, as a Marshall family, continue to tell the stories,” Hamrick said during the ceremony.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Matthew M. Ralsten III of Atlanta, Georgia, who lost both parents on the flight back from a game at East Carolina University. Ralsten III and his wife Tammy both graduated from Marshall. He said Matthew Murrill Ralsten and Helen Ralsten, both Marshall graduates as well, were among the 24 Marshall supporters on that flight.
Ralsten III’s father operated a clothing store called The Ralsten Ltd. and was also a member of Huntington City Council. His mother was a school teacher in Chesapeake, Ohio. He said through their busy lives, his parents still found the time to support their alma mater and they were doing so that day.
“My life continues to revolve around this state, this community and this university,” Ralsten said to the large crowd on hand at the Memorial Fountain on the Memorial Student Center Plaza.
“Despite no longer having a physical connection to Huntington, I continued to be influenced by the shared memories of my parents, their past involvement in this community.”
The ceremony ended with current Marshall football players, community members and descendants of victims placing roses at the fountain for each victim. The fountain was then turned off and will remain silent until spring.
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert spoke of the importance of the ceremony, which he said has big plans in 2020 for the 50th anniversary.
“The ritual reminds us, strengthens us, and binds us together in love. The love of our lost colleagues, the love of each other and the love of Marshall University,” Gilbert said.
Marshall football coach Doc Holliday and his team will honor the victims in many ways at their football game Friday night against Louisiana Tech.
The team will wear all black uniforms with white helmets that have the number 75 on them. Down the center of the helmets will be a green stripe with every victim’s name on it.
Football alum, like they do every year, will lock arms with current players and walk out of the locker room right before kickoff in silence.
“For more than 40 years, I’ve been a football coach. For 10 years, I’ve been the head coach at Marshall University. I’ve been involved in big games, I’ve coached in special environments, I’ve seen my share of memorable moments. Nothing I have ever done compares to what is going through my heart right now,” Holliday said.
The game kicks off at 7:00 and fans are encouraged to wear black. Marshall enters the contest at 6-3 overall and 4-1 in Conference-USA while the Bulldogs, 8-1, enter winning 8 games in a row and 5-0 in conference play which only adds to the importance of the game.
A national television audience will take in the game on CBS Sports Network.