FERRUM—Albeit to a lesser degree than the historic December date that the phrase depicts, Saturday’s date 50 years ago will live in infamy.
November 14, 1970 has bound two colleges, one large and one small, and two football programs, one that competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and one that play NCAA Division III, from that day forward.
On that date, a plane carrying Marshall (W.Va.) University’s football team, staff and supporters, crashed upon its return to Huntington, W.Va. from Greenville, N.C. where Marshall had played a game against East Carolina University that day.
There were no survivors.
Seven of Marshall’s players had transferred from Ferrum College, all of whom were members of the Panthers’ 1968 junior college national championship squad.
Also, Rick Tolley, Marshall’s head coach at the time, was Hank Norton’s first full-time assistant coach. The former Virginia Tech player left Ferrum prior to 1968 to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest University before moving on to Marshall.
Tolley and the seven players—Thomas Wayne Brown, Arthur Kirk Shannon, David Dearing Griffith, Jerry Dodson Stainback, Jr., Patrick Jay Norell, Thomas Jonathan Zborill and James Robert Patterson—comprise “The Ferrum 8.” They were inducted as a group into Ferrum’s Alumni-Sports Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1994.
A week of remembrances are on-going at Marshall as the 50th anniversary of the crash approaches on Saturday. The Thundering Herd plays Middle Tennessee State University at home at noon that day.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferrum does not play a game Saturday. If the Panthers return to the gridiron before next fall, they will do so during the college’s spring semester which commences in January.
Ferrum’s 1968 national title team, its second of four junior college championship squads, celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago when the Panthers hosted their first Homecoming game as members of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).
The Panthers lost to league rival Washington and Lee University that day, 38-35, when the Generals kicked a game-winning field goal on the last play of regulation. The game marked the first time that the Panthers and the Generals had met as ODAC and Division III football foes.
The Panthers’ football program has presented the Big Green Award as a memorial to the “Ferrum 8” since 1971. A portrait of Tolley hangs in the Panthers’ football locker room and he and Norton share naming rights to renovated press box at W.B. Adams Stadium.
Banners honoring all four of Ferrum’s title teams (1965, 1968, 1974 and 1977) are displayed at Adams Stadium.
The Panthers were returning home from a game in Maryland when news of the crash broke. Days later, Norton, a native of Huntington, W.Va. and Renso “Rock’’ Perdoni, a defensive star on the 1968 title team who was playing for Georgia Tech at the time, left for Marshall.
The 1968 team routed Phoenix Junior College of Arizona, 41-19, in the Shrine Bowl to win the national championship and to complete a 10-0 campaign.
During the regular season, the Panthers traveled to Miami, Oklahoma and bested Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, which won the 1967 national championship. The victory was one of six road wins, the Panthers achieved that season.
“We beat them in an emotional game,’’ Norton said recalling the win during an interview with The Franklin News-Post 20 years later.
The squad was led by Perdoni and Horace Green, who would later coach at Franklin County High School and Ferrum.
There were other standouts too—Ivey Mays, Phil Mosser, Dan Danko, Jim Hambacher,, Kris Kahila, A.C. Burke, Wayne Stinnette and Ed Martin.
Danko, Martin and Norton have passed on. Kahila and Burke became high school wrestling coaches; Kahila built FCHS’s decorated program from the ground floor, and Stinnette once served as an assistant high school football coach.
Norton was presented a ring honoring the seven players following his final game as the Panthers coach at 1993. One of those players was Kahila’s roommate.
Green was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player of the 1968 national title game.
“We played a great Phoenix team that had beaten the California (junior college) champions by two touchdowns,’’ Norton said. “They had always talked about California junior college football and how it was the best. Well, Phoenix beat the best in California and we beat Phoenix, 41-19, in the national championship game.
“I think that (victory) dispelled the myth that California junior college football was better than anywhere else. I think that proved the we could play in the East and so were are very proud of that,’’ Norton said.
“We (the 1968 team) wanted to be the best that we could possibly be and we tried to prove that in every game,’’ Danko said when the team celebrated its 20th reunion in 1988.
“As every game progressed, we got better and better and we peaked in Savannah, Ga. (site of the title contest) when we played Phoenix. And that’s the key,’’ Danko said.
Two years later, the crash occurred.
“The ones who were killed in the plane crash were all good athletes. They (the 1968 team) were a close-knit group. It was like all of your buddies being killed. It was a horrible thing,’’ Norton said.
Green had moved on to Western Carolina University in 1970.
“It’s something that never leaves your mind,’’ Green said when recalling the tragedy following his hiring at FCHS. “It’s spooky.
“I was at (Western Carolina) with (Ferrum teammate) John Mahoney who was already there. He came into my room and told me. My first thought was, ‘ No this can’t be true,’ but I later found out it was true.’’
I don’t think anyone has ever felt comfortable with it because if you look at it, you can say to your self that it could have been one of us,’’ Green said.
“We don’t look at (the plane crash) as a tragedy; we look at it as an inspiration to all of us,’’ Danko said. “We are happy that we ever knew those guys. They have definitely played a big role in our lives because they have brought us (the 1968 team) together and made us closer. It has made this team a very, very special team.’’
THE BIG GREEN AWARD
1971 Jim Hottle
1972 Jim Grobe
1973 Richard Greene
1974 Mike Antonopoulos
1975 Gary Wells
1976 Johny Douglas
1977 Ed Lewis
1978 Billy Jarvis
1979 Bernie West
1980 Rob Stanley
1981 Leno Illardo
1982 Frank Rossi
1983 Ricky Cruze
1984 Randy Harper
1985 Mark McGlothlin
1986 Mark Fedrovitch
1987 Nathan Scott
1988 Greg Thurman
1989 Paul Scott White
1990 Kevin Sherman
1991 John Sheets, Cecil Phillips
1992 Kirt Studevant
1993 Ray Brown
1994 Ray Brawley, Chris Glascock
1995 David Waddell
1996 Kevin Slough
1997 Derrick Hollins
1998 J.C. Harmon
1999 James Puryear, Charles Spangler
2000 Randy Anderson
2001 Greg Middleton
2002 Matt Stinson
2003 Chris Ward
2004 George Masten
2005 Dustin Hamoy, Alvin Jones
2006 Jermaine Pitts
2007 Shaun Green
2008 Nic King
2009 Matt Dobson
2010 John Branch
2011 Steven Harris
2012 Scott Puschell, Kenny Tapscott
2013 Wes Franklin
2014 Anthony Orton
2015 Thomas Betts
2016 Anthony Konieczka
2017 Alveno Matthews
2018 Lawrence Baranski III
2019 Jordan Patti
THE FERRUM 8
Coach Rick Tolley
Thomas W. Brown
David D. Griffith
Patrick J. Norrell
James R. Patterson
Arthur K. Shannon