The Thundering Herd

A copy of this poster was emailed to my husband and I by Billy Joel’s wife’s grandmother, but that’s a long story in and of itself.

About 18 years ago or so, M the Elder and our sons and I lived in Huntington, West Virginia. M the Elder worked at Marshall University. It was his first “real job” (so to speak) in his profession since he’d graduated from graduate school. We stayed in Huntington, renting a house, for about four months while we looked for our first house to buy. We eventually bought a house on the other side of the Ohio River, in Ohio, because we thought the school system might be better for the boys than the school system in West Virginia or Kentucky (Huntington, for those that don’t know, sits right where the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio meet). We were right. The school system in Ohio was better, but not by much. It was, after all, Ohio Appalachia, coal mining country, very rural with lots of hills. It’s a gorgeous area (great for hiking) with a very depressed economy and a lot of people who don’t believe education is terribly important, as well as a lot of people in charge who prefer to keep the people not in charge uneducated and ignorant of the world outside of Appalachia.

One piece of evidence of the priorities in this area is the new football stadium which was built at Marshall U. while we were there. The money was somehow obtained byArch Moore, the then governor of West Virginia. Thirty million dollars used for athletics at a time when they were sorely in need of new libraries, computers, and other things of an academic nature. Unfortunately, academics just doesn’t bring in the fame the way athletics does, especially football, most especially Thundering Herd football in the 90’s when they were doing phenomenally well.

M the Elder and I took part in the ground breaking ceremony. We were carrying signs. It’s not that any of us were against football (or the football stadium, for that matter). The press and the university interpreted it that way (made for better copy, I imagine, as an Us vs. Them mentality always does, creating tension, drama, and division whereas an Us working with Them mentality isn’t quite as interesting). The money was allocated and spent by this point in time and nothing was going to stop the building of the football stadium. But there were an awful lot of folks, including us, who felt that if they could come up with $30 million for a football stadium, then surely there were a few bucks laying around somewhere that could be used for some pressing academic needs. This was not so much a protest against as it was a request for (for libraries, books, to finish the science building, etc.).

I’ve been surprised by the amount of advertising and publicity that has been going on over the past month for the film We Are Marshall. Not that it doesn’t make for a good story/film. A plane crash, the deaths of 75 members of the football team, the grief, the town coming together and the rebuilding of the program all make for good drama and since this isn’t a documentary, I’m sure there’s been plenty of what they call dramatization of actual events. I’m not sure that the “We Are…” followed by “MARSHALL!” refrain was around during the time in which the film takes place, but I can see why they’d use it. It sounds good. And in the film’s context (something I’ve only seen in the movie trailer) it raises goosebumps in the same way any touching, dramatic, spirited, or patriotic moment might.

The movie doesn’t officially come out until December 22nd. The Huntington premiere is tonight.

I wonder if Billy Joel’s wife’s grandmother will be there.

(Disclaimer: I don’t mean to come off sounding heartless about the events of 1970. Not at all. Having lived in the Huntington area for over 13 years, I’m aware of what an impact the crash had on the lives of the people of that region, especially the friends and family members. This was just a rambling post with no particular point based on the fact that the premiere is tonight and I was thinking that I’d like to be there. I do hope to see the film once it comes out. It’ll be interesting to see what Hollywood has done with the story as well as see the places in Huntington where parts of it were filmed.)

College football is a sport that bears the same relation to education that bullfighting does to agriculture. ~Elbert Hubbard