HUNTINGTON -- The chill in the air Friday afternoon was enough to form icicles that dangled from the Memorial Fountain on Marshall University's campus.
However, the freezing temperature wasn't enough to keep away thousands of students and community members who gathered around it to honor the 75 Marshall football players, coaches, staff, supporters and flight crew who died in the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash.
The ceremony was marked with memories and honoring those lives lost by university officials, students and featured speaker Tom Shoebridge, whose brother, Marshall Quarterback Ted Shoebridge, died in the crash.
Some members of the New Jersey-native Shoebridge family periodically have visited Marshall since losing Ted, and Tom Shoebridge, a football and track and field coach at Lyndhurst High School, said the Marshall community has served as an inspiration in his life.
"You guys down here in Huntington, you just could have stood by the wayside and forgot about it," Shoebridge said. "You didn't. You stood up and said, 'You know what? We're going to be better. We're going to honor them. We're going to be bigger. We're going to be stronger. We're going to be Marshall University."
Ted Shoebridge was among the victims of the crash, which claimed the lives of 36 players from the team. Also killed were nine coaches and members of the athletic staff, 25 fans and the jetliner's crew of five.
The plane carrying the Marshall University football team home from its game at East Carolina University earlier in the afternoon of Nov. 14 crashed in Kenova near Tri-State Airport45 minutes after taking off from Stallings Field at the Kinston Airport in North Carolina.
The plane, flying in light rain with poor visibility, clipped a tree 66 feet above the ground on a ridge just west of West Virginia Route 75, tumbled while cutting a 95-foot swath across the hillside and slammed into the hillside on the east side of the highway at a speed of 160 miles per hour. Everyone aboard the Southern Airways DC-9 died instantly.
The ceremony that took place on the 44th anniversary of the crash included an invocation from Rev. Steve Harvey, chaplain for Marshall's football team, and remarks from Shoebridge, Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick, Head Football Coach Doc Holliday and President Stephen Kopp. The Marshall University Chorus also performed an original song, "The Fountain," during the ceremony.
The event annually is sponsored by Marshall's Student Government Association, and portions of the ceremony have become symbolic traditions, especially the placement of 75 roses along the edge of the fountain one for each life lost in the crash.
"When you see all 75 of those roses laying out there, it can be overwhelming," said Jamez Morris-Smith, director of theater facilities
at Marshall, who helps coordinate the event. "They only started that a few years ago. It's a nice way to remember each and every member from the entire football team, the supporters and the crew that was lost that day. It physically gives you a representation of those lives."
This year the roses were placed next to the fountain by loved ones of crash victims, Marshall students and members of the football team, who will sport '75' on their helmets during Saturday's game vs. Rice University at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Holliday said during his remarks.
Holliday was emotional while talking about the symbolism of the number and how it felt to be away from the university during last year's ceremony. In 2013, the football team was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, preparing to face-off against The University of Tulsa, the first time the team had been away from the school on Nov. 14 since the crash.
"It was an emotional time a year ago as we were sitting in the hotel in Tulsa," Holliday said. "We wore that number 75. It's a great tribute to our players that they understand when you step out onto that field with the 75 on the side of your helmet, you better play extremely hard because you're playing for more than teammates and yourselves. They're playing for a community, a fan base, a university and for those relatives and friends of those who died on that night.
"This date is part of our history. It's part of our fabric. It's one of those things that brings us together."
President Kopp talked about how the plane crash happened a little more than a month after his mother passed away. He was 19 at the time, and he said, at the time of the crash, he couldn't fathom the suffering for Marshall's great loss as he dealt with one of the biggest losses of his own life.
"I think it's important for students to understand that the ripples of time and the ripples of tragedies are unpredictable and intense," Kopp said. "While we might think this is just a Huntington tragedy, and it truly was, it transcends our community. It transcends our university and our state. It is described as the worst tragedy of its kind in the history of intercollegiate athletics for good reason.
"Today, we remember and we honor those 75 individuals who were taken from us far too early. And, in remembering, we find solace and are reminded of the power of love, hope, family and community."
Hamrick, who played football as a member of the Young Thundering Herd, said even though he grew up in West Virginia and attended Marshall, his life experiences have helped him come to know the significance of the fountain and honoring the lives lost in the crash.
"I walked by that fountain many times as a student and never really understood what it meant," Hamrick said. "As I get older ... I realize what it really means. That's a family. We lost many members of our family. Every day when I walk by that on this campus, I remember that family."
Tom Shoebridge shared stories about his older brother, Ted, who had been drafted to play Major League Baseball prior to the crash, and he also talked about the day of the crash and learning the news that he had lost his older brother. Tom was 17 when the plane crashed.
He said his mother always told him and his siblings to talk about Ted if someone brought him up in a conversation because that was how his memory would be carried on and honored.
He said he has easily found lifelong friends and a sense of respect for his family at Marshall, and he asked students to keep the memory of the 1970 team alive.
"You are a special place," Shoebridge said. "This is a national university. We have families across the country always looking in, watching, seeing what's going on. We ask you to keep it a special place. Treat it with love. Honor them by doing that."