Marshall remembers lives lost in worst US sports disaster

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University commemorated the 50th anniversary of the worst sports disaster in U.S. history Saturday, a plane crash that killed most of the entire football team.

The solemn ceremony was held around a fountain dedicated to the crash victims on Marshall’s Huntington campus. As part of an annual rite, the fountain was turned off at the end of the service and will be turned back on in the spring.

“This plaza and this fountain are the heart of Marshall University,” university President Jerome Gilbert said. “It is the center of activity of the campus.

“Today, it is a sacred place.”

On Nov. 14, 1970, the chartered jet crashed in fog and rain into a hillside upon approach to an airport near Huntington as the team was returning from a game at East Carolina, killing all 75 on board.

On Saturday, 75 candles surrounded the fountain. Gone were sons, fathers, mothers, classmates and fraternity brothers. The victims included 36 football players and 39 school administrators, coaches, fans, spouses and flight crew. White roses were laid by the fountain as each victim’s name was read at the ceremony.

Former Marshall cheerleader Lucianne Kautz Call lost her father, Charlie E. Kautz, who was the university’s athletic director. She graduated from Marshall in 1971.

“We each lost one or more family members,” said Call, the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “From that moment, we became one family.”

Marshall decided to continue the football program. But for the university and the entire community, it left a huge void. Some who were left off the flight, did not make the trip or lost loved ones spent the next five decades with crippling questions that had no answers.

“Yes, we grieve. Yes, we hurt,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said. “This event taught me how to celebrate someone’s life. That’s what we are doing today.”

Kenova native and Grammy-award winner Michael W. Smith opened the ceremony by singing “Amazing Grace.” He told the audience that he was 13 when the plane crashed eight minutes from his house.

“It forever changed my life,” Smith said. ”The town died. But the town came back.”

The rebuilding of the football program was the subject of the 2006 movie “We are Marshall” starting Matthew McConaughey.

“50 years,” McConaughey said Saturday on Twitter. “Never forget. Never defeated. We Are Marshall.”

The ceremony was held by invitation-only due to the coronavirus pandemic and was made available online. Among those in the fountain audience were four football players from East Carolina who played in that 1970 game.

On Friday, the 36 players who died in the crash received degrees from Marshall in their fields of study. Members of the current team also visited a nearby cemetery, where six players from the 1970 team whose bodies were never identified were buried.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.