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Marshall remembers worst U.S. sports disaster 50 years later

Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 8:41 AM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.V. (WITN) - After a plane crash killed most of the Marshall University football team 50 years ago, the simplest choice for school leaders would have been to drop the sport altogether.

It was the worst sports disaster in U.S. history. But school officials couldn’t bring themselves to eliminate the team. From the 75 lives lost, the program slowly rebuilt and eventually triumphed. A half-century later, those who lived through the tragedy remember the feeling that they had to keep playing.

On Friday, the university will mark the anniversary of the crash by awarding posthumous degrees to the players who were killed.

Thirty-seven members of Marshall’s team, eight coaches and 25 supporters were killed on Nov. 14, 1970 when their chartered jet crashed on approach to Tri-State Airport outside of Huntington, West Virginia. The team was returning after a 17-14 loss to ECU.

The teams were scheduled to play again this season, but due to COVID-19, the game was canceled. ECU’s Athletic Director Jon Gilbert says they hope to play Marshall in a subsequent year that both universities can agree on.

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