On November 14, 1970, a chartered plan carrying the Marshall University football team crashed in Kenova, West Virginia. Aboard the plane were seven former Ferrum College football players and Rick Tolley, Marshall’s head football coach and former assistant football coach at Ferrum. None of the passengers survived.
In the following letter, Ferrum College Athletic Director John Sutyak pays tribute to the lives lost 50 years ago.
Dear Ferrum Community,
Today, November 14, marks the 50th anniversary of the Marshall University football tragedy, where 75 members of the Marshall football program perished on a charter flight returning from a game against East Carolina University. Among those who perished were seven former Ferrum football players and Marshall head football coach, Rick Tolley, who previously served as an assistant coach under Ferrum head football coach, Hank Norton. All eight of these men were members of the 1968 national champion Ferrum football team, claiming the second national title in program history.
Outside of the Marshall University community, no school suffered more than Ferrum. These young men left behind their respective families and the friendships they cultivated here on our beloved campus. Fifty years later, they continue to be honored on our campus in multiple ways:
- All seven alumni and coach Tolley were inducted together in the inaugural 1994 class of the Ed George Sports Hall of Fame at Ferrum College.
- Since the fall of 1971, Ferrum football has given out “The Big Green Award” to a senior football player who best demonstrates the qualities of courage, hustle and desire as a role model for his teammates.
- The weight room in the Hank Norton Center is called The Big Green Room, a tribute to Marshall University’s athletic colors.
- The football locker room is named after coach Tolley, with his portrait hanging on the entrance wall.
- A plaque hangs in the head football coach’s office with a photo of all eight men and their 1968 national championship rings.
- Since 2013, the press box at W.B. Adams Stadium, home to Ferrum football, is named after both Hank Norton and Rick Tolley.
Ferrum College planned to honor the Ferrum-Marshall 8 during our final home game of the season against Emory & Henry College this afternoon. Unfortunately, in response to COVID-19, the College had to cancel all on-campus events, including postponing its football season, for the entire fall semester.
Today in Huntington, W.V., Marshall University will conduct its annual tradition of honoring all members of the crash. I hope you will join me in a moment of silence this weekend to remember the lives lost, and to reflect on the legacy they left behind. Their impact on Ferrum athletics is felt every time a student walks into the Big Green weight room; every time a student-leader receives the Big Green Award for acts of courage and leadership; and every time a player or coach is greeted by Coach Tolley in the football locker room.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families, friends and teammates of the eight men. We wish continued eternal peace to Tommy Brown, David Griffith, Pat Norrell, Bob Patterson, Art Shannon, Jerry Stainback, Tom Zborill and Rick Tolley. Your legacies will never be forgotten.
With Panther Pride,
Director of Athletics