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A long, sad trip home
By DAVID WALSH
HUNTINGTON -- Mary Lou Light has been behind the wheel for some difficult car trips. One of the most difficult for her occurred Nov. 14, 1970, while returning home from Morgantown where that afternoon she had watched West Virginia defeat Syracuse, 28-19. Paul Zirkle, her son, had gone to a football camp at WVU. Light received four tickets to that Syracuse game courtesy of Mountaineers coach Bobby Bowden.
"There were two guys behind us listening to a radio," she said Tuesday night prior to Marshall's game against Southern Miss at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. "We asked them if they had a score on the Marshall-East Carolina game. We yacked back and forth. It was a tease done in fun, but we never got the score."
Light, her son and two other young passengers got in her Toyota for the long trip home (there was no I-79 then). She kept scanning the radio dial to get a score on the Marshall game. She found a station out of Atlanta and Jim Thacker, a former sports reporter in Huntington, was calling a game.
"All of a sudden, he had word about a plane crash at Tri-State Airport and thought it was the Marshall team," she said. "I kept listening for updates." Two hours later, tuned into another station, what she heard was unsettling to say the least. The plane bringing the Marshall team back from the 17-14 loss at East Carolina did crash short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova and all 75 people on board died.
"It was a very sad trip back," Light said. "The boys were crying. There was a heavy burden on the heart."
Light went to the memorial service at Veterans Memorial Field House and another held at Fairfield Stadium. "It was very difficult to do that," she said.
Light, who credited her father, Elmer Miller for getting her interested in athletics, was at Fairfield Stadium on Sept. 25, 1971 when the Young Thundering Herd scored on the final play of the game to beat Xavier, 15-13, in its home opener in front of 13,800 elated fans.
"I cried like a baby again," she said. "I thought the Lord's been looking over this team the whole time."
Since 1984, Marshall football has enjoyed amazing success.
"You hold out hope," Light said, recalling the tough times from 1971 to 1983. "You're so thankful to the people who kept the program going and support the Herd. I thought we'd do well, but never in a million years did I think we'd have national prominence."
Southern Miss edged the Herd, 27-24 in overtime, Tuesday night in front of 22,000-plus fans and a national TV audience tuned into ESPN2.
"We even get on free TV," she said. "People know us as Marshall now. What an amazing thing this has been."