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Chuck Landon: Herrion pays tribute to Newtown with jacket

Dec. 20, 2012 @ 12:31 AM

This game was important to Tom Herrion.

That in itself is not surprising.

Each and every Marshall game, practice, summer workout or meeting is vitally important to the Herd's dynamic, driven, workaholic head coach.

But this game, this particular game on Wednesday night in the Henderson Center took on a particular importance for Herrion.

That's because this was Marshall's first home game since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., shocked the nation six days ago.

Most of us don't have any GPS of a clue where Newtown, Conn., in located on the Atlas. But Herrion does. It is near and dear to his Northeastern heart and his Massachusetts roots.

That's why Herrion wanted to make a gesture, a silent statement acknowledging the senseless tragedy of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook being murdered along with six school staffers including a teacher and principal.

So, when Herrion walked out onto the court in the Henderson Center during warm-ups before Marshall's game against visiting Savannah State Wednesday night, he was wearing a carefully chosen ensemble.

Herrion donned the traditional green blazer he was presented at his introductory press conference after accepting the head basketball coaching job over three years ago, accentuated by a green and cream striped neck tie.

But he wasn't wearing it for Marshall. Not this time. Instead, he was wearing it for Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Green was their school color. It was the color the first-graders and the teachers and the principal all wore to show solidarity.

It was Herrion's turn to show his solidarity Wednesday night.

"It was my way of paying tribute to Newtown, Conn., and Sandy Hook Elementary School," explained Herrion, during his post-game press conference. "You all don't know, but it's on Route 84.

"And I'd say easily 200 to 300 times I've driven through that town, that area recruiting when I was a young coach up in New

England.

"With a six-year-old son (David) who is going to be seven right after Christmas that is in the first grade ... "

Herrion paused to swallow the lump in his throat and tried to regroup emotionally as his eyes glistened with brimming tears.

"Um, think about it this way," he continued. "Those kids, boys and girls, were the same age as the kids that come to my camp. So, it was my way of paying tribute.

"Green is their color at that school. It's just a small way for me to pay homage to the senseless, ridiculous, despicable slaughtering of all the people last Friday."

We, the press corps, were stunned into silence.

Herrion is not a pontificator. He's not looking for a pulpit to bully. He's not a jump on the emotional band wagon of any ol' cause célèbre kind of guy, either.

This gesture and his heart-felt emotional comments after a game were out of character for Herrion.

Yet, it showed so much of his character.

Although Herrion's comments spilled chokingly while he wrestled with his emotions, those words spoke such volumes.

""I'm not a soapbox guy," he said, "but ... I have a six-year-old son. I don't know if I've driven by Sandy Hook. But I know I've stopped in Newtown lots of time for gas or whatever. It's right off Route 85. That's a big highway like I-64."

Oh, by the way, Marshall defeated Savannah State, 64-48, Wednesday before 5,316 fans who were surprised Herrion didn't shed his sports jacket as usual.

"I was sweating like crazy," he said, "but I left it on the whole game."

The gesture was as eloquent as his words.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald- dispatch.com.

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