Had Ted Shoebridge lived, he would now be 64 years old, and long since retired from a playing career in the NFL or major league baseball.
At least that’s the opinion of Shoebridge’s brother, Tom, who will be the featured speaker at this year’s annual Memorial Service to honor the 75 victims of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash.
The service sponsored by Marshall’s Student Government Association starts at noon Friday, Nov. 14, on the Memorial Student Center plaza on the university’s Huntington campus. That day marks the 44th anniversary of the worst sports tragedy in U.S. history.
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.
Gone in an instant were the hopes and dreams of 75 people, including Ted Shoebridge.
“I firmly believe he would have played professional sports—football or baseball,” said Tom Shoebridge of his brother. “He was an outstanding baseball player. I watched the tapes of his last year of football at Marshall and I evaluated him as a player.”
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 Airport—just 45 minutes after taking off from Stallings Field at the Kinston (N.C.) Airport.
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.
“I was 17 years old at the time. It was a very hard time, to say the least,” said Tom Shoebridge. “My mom and dad kept everything. They [Marshall] sent us his travel bag, his jerseys and his helmet.”
Tom Shoebridge has since donated his brother’s green jersey to The Union Pub & Grill in downtown Huntington and the white jersey—the one he wore against East Carolina—to Marshall to be placed in the university’s new athletic hall of fame, located inside the indoor athletic facility. Ted Shoebridge wore No. 14.
In 1990, 20 years after the crash, Ted Shoebridge’s parents visited Huntington. In an interview with The Herald-Dispatch, they cried openly, still heartbroken by their loss.
As a lifelong football and track coach at Lyndhurst (N.J) High School, Tom Shoebridge said he has given plenty of speeches. But, he admits, this one will be different.
“I’m a bit nervous,” he said. “This is something that is very near and dear to my family’s hearts. It is very important to me and my family. I want to do a representative job.”
Although Shoebridge has been to some of the annual memorial services and attended Marshall’s football victories over the University of Rhode Island and Ohio University this season, most of his family has not. However, a number of family members will attend the service this year, including his wife, a brother and a niece.
Tom Shoebridge said his brother Ted would be very proud of Marshall University if he were alive today—as would his parents.
“My mom and dad are gone, but it would be great for them to see all the wonderful things at Marshall, all the transitions they have gone through,” said Tom, who retired from teaching two years ago. He remains the head boys’ track coach after 36 years, and is a volunteer coach with the football team after 30 years as an assistant coach, including 25 years as offensive coordinator.
To this day, the Marshall University family and the Huntington community still mourn the victims of the tragedy.
At the mere mention of “the crash,” sadness abounds.
“It is sad … it’s very sad,” said Mike Hamrick, Marshall’s director of athletics and a former player for the Thundering Herd. “When you think of those young people who died in the primes of their lives, it gets you right in the gut. It hurts; it still hurts to this day. Many of the surviving family members who are still around have not gotten over it and probably won’t get over it as long as they live. You just wonder, ‘why?’ Why did it happen? Why here? Why to Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia?”
For whatever the reason, the plane did crash. 44 years ago. And, 75 people died. 44 years ago.
Amazingly, the crowds have grown each year at the memorial service, packing the plaza in a reverent manner. To many of those who perhaps knew at least one of the victims, or were Marshall students at the time, or even just lived in Huntington at the time of the crash, these 44 years have gone by quickly.
Joe Wortham, who was a student assistant statistician for Gene Morehouse, the sports information director at the time of the crash, seems a bit surprised that it has been 44 years.
“I stopped counting, probably after the 10th year,” Wortham said. “It doesn’t feel like it has been 44 years to me.”
Wortham has worked at Marshall since the fall of 1966, when he was hired as a freshman student assistant by then-Athletic Director Whitey Wilson just a few months after graduating from Huntington High School.
Wortham knows that he could have been on the plane. He alternated road trips with Larry George, the other student assistant assigned to sports information to assist Morehouse, and Wortham was slated to make the trip. But, he had to take a national exam to get his degree, and the only day it was given was Nov. 14, 1970.
“So, we swapped trips,” Wortham said. “By luck or fate, I didn’t take that flight. Initially, it was an uneasy feeling when you realized it could’ve been—should’ve been—me on that plane. But, I figure in life there is always a reason for everything.”
Some people have suggested that it is time to stop having the services; that 44 years is long enough to mourn.
“No way,” said Duncan Waugaman, president of the Student Government Association. “As long as there is at least one person that is still affected by the plane crash and wants to remember the lives lost from it, we will continue to have it. Marshall University went from a school to a family on November 14, 1970, and we will continue to honor our fallen family members. It’s the least we can do.”