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2 January 2007

JSU HPER Chair Finds Special Meaning
in Recently Released Sports Disaster Movie

Dr. Jeff Chandler

“We Are Marshall” debuted in theaters across the United States in late December. It’s being billed as one of the best sports movies ever—recounting an inspiring true story set in Huntington, West Virginia, a small town steeped in the rich tradition of college football. For at least one Jacksonville State University professor, the movie carries a special meaning.

The movie is the emotional story of the 1970 plane crash that took the lives of the entire Marshall University traveling football team, the coaching staff, the athletic department staff, and several boosters. Seventy-five lives were lost in the crash.

According to a film review by Steve Rhodes:

  • In 1970, in what the film's marketing department calls the biggest disaster in sports history, the Marshall University football team and coaches perish in a plane crash at the end of the season. One coach and four players who weren't on the plane survive. This isn't much to put a team together with for the next year since the NCAA rules won't allow incoming freshmen to play. This causes the adults in the town to decide to give up, but the students want to go on—somehow.

  • Set in the quintessential steel mill town of Huntington, West Virginia, the college needs someone to lead this almost non-existent football program. The only surviving coach, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox, the doctor on "Lost"), is way too broken up emotionally to lead the team.

  • With much trepidation but no other viable options, Marshall University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) reluctantly decides to accept the application of Jack Lengyel to lead the Thundering Herd, as the team is called.

Dr. Jeff Chandler came to JSU in January of 2006 as Professor and Department Head of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. Prior to the move to JSU, Chandler served as Professor and Chair of the Division of Exercise Science, Sport, and Recreation (ESSR) at Marshall University.

"My six and one-half years at Marshall were great. The faculty and students are wonderful people, and to have the movie come out a year after I left is something very special”, Chandler states.

“I remember the plane crash in November of 1970 very well. It was my senior year of high school in Bremen, GA, not far from Jacksonville State. The crash occurred one week after I completed my senior football season. At the time, I had no idea that my career path would lead me to Marshall University.”

The scene that was the most emotional for Chandler was not the scene you might expect. After the crash, the President of Marshall University discussed the options of fielding a football team for the following year. He comments that there are no players, no coaches, not even an athletic director.

“My office as Chair of ESSR at Marshall was the same office used by the athletic director killed in the plane crash”, states Chandler. “That scene hit me pretty close to home.”

The movie chronicles the story of how Marshall made the decision to field a football team, and after many trials and disappointments, went on to become the most winning football program in the country in the 1990’s.

“Marshall will always hold a special place in my heart. The movie strengthened by bonds to the Marshall community.”

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