Last Saturday afternoon I was “channel surfing” to find a college football game when I came upon Eastern Kentucky at Marshall which garnered a prime national TV slot during the current “Covid chaos” surrounding that sport.
I immediately thought of my three special Sidney High School teachers who were Marshall products, and the memorable trips I made with two of them to watch their football team play in its home of Huntington, West Virginia, about four hours southeast of Sidney.
Back in the fall of 1970 my American History instructor was Ken McCormick, with Shearl Edler handling English, and Marlin Shamblin teaching Spanish. I remember all three being devastated when the Marshall football team and traveling party perished in a November plane crash almost 50 years ago. However, the Thundering Herd painfully regrouped to play football in 1971 and beyond, inspiring the acclaimed movie “We Are Marshall.”
Ken and Marlin sometimes ventured back to their alma mater for a game, and often said they’d like me to go along which eventually happened with regular frequency. It was a gorgeous drive in the autumn of the year. We would reminisce, spend a night, enjoy Huntington, and usually see a dominant Herd victory. Former teaching colleague Gary Elsass periodically rounded out a foursome. Other times it was just two or three of us.
On one memorable venture we were pleased that Sidney’s Stan Evans would be the game referee. Our presence actually delighted him when we delivered his misplaced game shoes from Sidney to his hotel with time to spare on Saturday morning.
In 2002 it was just Marlin and me for a big midweek Mid-American Conference win over Ben Roethlisberger and his Miami Redhawks. On that night we got a preview of Big Ben’s future greatness quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers. We were also treated to an after game scuffle on the field involving rowdy Herd fans and frustrated Miami coaches resulting in several arrests.
Then there was my favorite with the McCormick-Ross duo on the 2006 November weeknight when Matthew McConaughey returned to Huntington to do a nationally televised halftime preview of the soon to be released “We Are Marshall.” Much of it had been shot in Huntington and the star had been embraced during his production stay. After the clips were shown on the video board, the heralded actor led the stadium in chanting that title. One side would yell “We Are” and our side would follow with “Marshall.” This repeated about five times as volume increased to a major roar.
When I viewed the joy on Ken’s face, I contrasted that with his despair after the plane crash in 1970. This was very special to him and also to me. My buddy was in a good place.
Several weeks after the movie preview, Marlin sent me a gift card from his Brunswick GA home that would pay my admission to see “We Are Marshall” for the first time. I word it that way because I’ve watched it around ten more times since.
The past decade has seen the passing of this trio of outstanding Marshall educators. I appreciate that they became a valued part of my Sidney experience from high school through enduring lifetime friendship.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a 1972 SHS graduate.