CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dan D’Antoni was a 23-year-old assistant with the Marshall basketball program in 1970, and a babysitter, too. He was at the home of a friend and team physician for the Thundering Herd when a plane carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed in Colorado.
As they watched the news unfold, and learned of the 31 lives lost, Dr. Ray Hagley turned to D’Antoni and said: “You really don’t know how tragic this is going to be unless you live there.”
Six weeks later, D’Antoni was watching some of Hagley’s six children when television and radio broadcasts were interrupted for a report that the plane carrying the Marshall football team had crashed near campus, killing all 75 aboard. Among them were Hagley and his wife. Their children were suddenly orphans.
D’Antoni eventually left Marshall, and an athletic department ripped apart by pain and loss, only to return in 2014 to lead the Thundering Herd. As fate would have it, the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 31 years means a game against Wichita State on Friday in San Diego.
“We certainly experienced the same type of tragedy,” D’Antoni recalled this week.
The meaning of the schools’ first matchup in men’s basketball (they never played in football) is hardly lost on supports and alumni of two schools forever linked by tragedy. The bracket release on Sunday brought back reminders of the bonds forged by them in the days and weeks after the crashes, their struggles to rebuild and the awful memories that will never go away.
“To be 18 years old and to be part of two human tragedies was a heavy burden,” said John Potts, a kicker on the 1970 Shockers team who, like other freshmen, was ineligible to play at the time.
That meant he was home in Wichita when one of the school’s two planes went down.
“Once we were made aware of the Marshall plane going down,” Potts said, “we were all stunned, and it was hard to believe it was happening all over again. We were just a few weeks removed from laying all of our teammates, coaches, staff, faculty members and supporters to rest.”
The crashes were separated by a mere 43 days and 1,300 miles.
It was a clear Oct. 2 when the two planes carrying Wichita State’s team took off from Denver, headed for a game at Utah State. The plane nicknamed “Black” took the planned route …read more