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Photo by Frank Masi/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Jack Lengyel, played by Matthew McConaughey, leads the team out onto the field in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' inspirational drama, "We Are Marshall."

Marshall University's rise from the ashes of a 1970 plane crash that killed most of its football team, half the coaching staff and several prominent members of the Huntington community had never caught the attention of Hollywood.

Until 2005.

Warner Bros. officials visited Huntington and Marshall in November 2005 and discussed the idea with school officials and residents who lost family members in the crash.

What makes predicting the effect of "We Are Marshall" so difficult is that there are few or no good comparisons to it. Sure, you could point to "Hoosiers," but that's about a high school, or "Rudy," but who hadn't heard of the University of Notre Dame when that was released? Maybe the closest recent comparison is basketball flick "Glory Road," but not only does that film not feature the school's name in the title, the name actually has changed since the story was set, so they don't even get the name recognition boost.

Local insurance salesman C.E. Wilson was an extra in the film. He said only good things can come from the movie.

"I cannot think of any scenario where the film will hurt the city or school. I think it will greatly enhance our ability to recruit not only student-athletes but regular admission students as well," Wilson said. "As the father of a high school senior who's looking at potential colleges even now, I believe young people and their parents look for places where they not only can get a good education but a community that will pull together and stand behind them in the best or worst of times."

Roy Slezak lives in Arizona these days, but he was once friends with Art Harris, one of the players killed in the 1970 plane crash. He had been invited to fly with the team, but had decided against it, a decision which saved his life. He believes that Marshall's tragedy will be transformed into something positive for the university.

"I believe that recruiting for the sports teams, especially football will be easier and the movie will shed a new light on Huntington as most people around the country have never heard of it and will be curious and go out of their way to visit when in the area," Slezak said. "That will mean an economic boost to the community."

There are plenty of guesses about what the film will mean to the community's future, but they are just that. Guesses. But as Jane Hillis, wife of 1971 Herd member Roger Hillis points out, there's at least one effect that is certain.

"For years, we had to explain where Marshall was, and now we can mention it, and folks know who we're talking about!" she said.

It would seem that no matter what they may think about the university, after Dec. 22, the nation knew Marshall's name. Now, a few month's after the film's release, the effects are still being felt, still changing. The film has banked around $43 million in the nation's box offices, but the film will be opened to a new audience, with a DVD release on the way in September.

 

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