HUNTINGTON -- The hoopla surrounding "We Are Marshall" has disappeared. The notoriety Young Thundering Herd coaches and players gained from the Warner Bros. movie has not. Actually, it continues to build.
"We Are Marshall" had its first big premier Dec. 12, 2006, in Huntington, the Hollywood premier was two days later and the movie went national later that month. The movie tells the story about the Marshall plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970, and the university's and town's efforts to rebuild from the tragedy. The plane bringing the team, coaches, athletic department officials and fans back from a game at East Carolina crashed short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. All 75 aboard died.
Jack Lengyel was hired in 1971 as head coach of the Young Thundering Herd and stayed with the program four years. Matthew McConaughey played Lengyel in the movie.
"To be part of the film, having some opportunities to have input, they didn't take all my stuff, I was pleased," said Lengyel, who nows lives just outside Phoenix. "This was much deeper than the game of football. It was the opportunity to put a team back together and to bring a town that always had been strong back. If this had happened in any other town, I believe it would've gone the way of Wichita (State)."
One of two planes taking Wichita State football players to a game at Utah State in Logan on Oct. 2, 1970, crashed. More than 30 people died, including the head coach. The school finished out the season and maintained the program until 1986 when the sport was dropped.
People from all over pitched in to help Marshall football get back on its feet.
"There's a uniqueness here," Lengyel said. "The university and the town, the two hearts beat as one. It was all about how can we help? The ultimate. ... coach (Bobby) Pruett's 15-0 (I-AA) national championship team. That put a capstone on it. It was not just a football story. It was how a university and community would come together. It exemplifies one of the great lessons in athletics. How to get up off the ground."
That's why Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati reached out to Lengyel in October. Prior to the 2007 season, the Crusaders lost two returning players. Jordan Bessey died in a car accident and Andy Carter was shot to death. On Oct. 4, Lengyel went and talked to the players, coaches and students about what was needed to come back. They watched "We Are Marshall" and used it as an inspiration.
"I talked about facing adversity and what they needed to do to come together," Lengyel said.
Moeller graduates Bobby Harris, Jack Repassy and Mark Adams died in the Marshall crash.
Today players and coaches from the Young Thundering Herd have formed a club to help family members and descendants from the crash, Young Herd players and others who are in need.
"That's typical of what those players grew up to be," Lengyel said. "They're like the community. How can we help? The cycle's come full circle. They know what was given in their time of need and now they want to reach back and help. That's the kind of legacy they want to leave."
Some of the Young Thundering Herd players admit the movie helped them come to grips with what happened. They began to correspond with each other during the production and the communications have grown even more.
"It brought back a lot of memories," said Rick Meckstroth, a linebacker from Batavia, Ohio, who is a Huntington businessman. "Some of the stuff maybe I wanted to forget, some I didn't. I feel better. I've been able to talk about it more.
"We were more immune then, young and full of energy. We didn't know where life was going. Our whole life had been turned upside down. It means more to me now than ever. That's what makes it so special. Sometimes I look back and wonder how we made it. I was proud to be there. We lost the spirit for a while, but it's come back."
Meckstroth said the club of former teammates will keep them together. The bond will become stronger, he said.