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HUNTINGTON — As a drizzle of rain started Saturday afternoon, the Marshall University Memorial Fountain’s water restarted to honor the rebirth of the Marshall football program in the 1970s.

On Nov. 14, 1970, a plane crash killed 75 people involved with Marshall’s football program, including players and coaching staff.

Each spring, the fountain is turned on to honor the rebirth of the university’s football program and the players and supporters who aided in rebuilding it after the tragedy.

The fountain ceremony was a precursor to Marshall’s spring football game. Another event in the fall honors the lives lost in the crash as the fountain water is turned off ahead of winter.

Bob Coleman, a former cornerback and long snapper for the Herd, was a featured speaker during Saturday’s ceremony. While on the team from 1974-77, he became a captain as a senior. Coleman graduated from Huntington East High School and grew up in Huntington.

Coleman, who has served as a pastor at churches across the country, recounted his time at Marshall and his upbringing in Huntington. Many of his anecdotes portrayed a sense of the familial ties Marshall alumni have with the university and the city.

During his speech, Coleman read a poem titled “The Slip” twice. The work by former Kentucky Poet Laureate Wendell Berry details an image of a river cutting away at the land to grow wider.

“We are Marshall. In our pain, we perceived new possibilities. Through our hard work and our learning, seeds have sprouted in the scars. And though we know death, we heal,” Coleman said, referencing lines from the poem.

Jack and Patty Trainor, who both attended Marshall University and continue to have a connection with the school, said Coleman’s speech reminded them of their own history with the university and Huntington. The pair have attended other spring ceremonies prior to Saturday’s.

“(Coleman) gave a really good feeling about what Huntington is about and how it was so family-oriented,” Jack Trainor said.

Coleman recalled his final interaction with Dr. Ray Hagley, who was one of the victims in the plane crash and a friend of Jack Trainor’s. As a child, Coleman would use Hagley’s basketball court to shoot hoops. Coleman said Hagley approached him a week before the crash while he was playing, not to tell him to leave, but to squeegee water off the court so he could continue to play.

In addition to Coleman, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and Athletics Director Mike Hamrick addressed the crowd. Gilbert said Saturday’s ceremony looked very different from last spring, when attendance was limited due to stay-at-home orders at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the crowd wore masks and practiced social distancing while on campus.

McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @mckennahorsley.

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