Off the Clock: Mason Administrator Has Real-Life Role in Marshall Story

Posted: January 23, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Steve Morehouse
Steve Morehouse
Photo by David Driver

Steve Morehouse, associate director of Facilities in Housing and Residence Life, was nearly 11 years old when he came home late on the evening of Nov. 14, 1970.

His midget league football team had lost in a championship game earlier that day in Knoxville, Tenn. When he arrived home in Huntington, W.Va., that night, his house was filled with people, and nearly all of them were crying.

Morehouse wondered why adults were crying about a youth football game that had taken place several hundred miles away. Then he learned his game was not the reason they were crying.

His mother told him that her husband and his father, Gene, had been killed in a plane crash earlier that evening. The crash claimed the lives of 75 people, including the head coach, Rick Tolley, and most players on the Marshall University football team, as well as support staff and alumni boosters. Gene Morehouse was the sports information director and radio voice of Marshall athletics.

The team had lost a game, 17-14, earlier that day at East Carolina University, and the plane crashed near Huntington on a rainy, foggy night at about 7 p.m. The crash took place 75 years to the day from when Marshall began its football program.

The story of the crash, and especially the aftermath, has been told in the movie, “We Are Marshall,” which was released last December.

Morehouse attended the West Virginia premier of the movie and his brother, Keith, a sportscaster in Huntington and a 1983 Marshall graduate, attended the premier in Hollywood. Taber Lathrop plays Steve Morehouse in the film, Keith Morehouse plays himself, Nina Jones plays their mother and Tommy Cresswell plays their father.

Steve Morehouse also attended filming of the movie that took place in Georgia and at Marshall last spring.

“It was a whirlwind and an emotional time,” he says of the filming and premier last year.

The movie begins with Gene Morehouse’s character announcing at the game at East Carolina.

“I think it’s a touching movie, an uplifting movie,” says Morehouse, who came to Mason in 2000. His previous job was at Marshall, where he still has season football tickets.

Morehouse, whose daughter, Sarah, is now a Mason senior, has lived with the tragedy for more than 36 years.

“Life doesn’t stop. You have to continue to live your life. Life does go on, as much as we want it to stop,” he says, sitting in his office at Potomac Heights residence hall. “It does make you think and realize that tragedies happen. You have to get out of bed every day.”

Sometimes Morehouse admits he looks at an adult who has two living parents and wonders what that would be like. Morehouse says 28 people lost both of their parents from the crash.

However, he says, there are positive things that came out of the crash.

After the crash, the Marshall president did not want to field a football team. But Jack Lengyel was hired as the new head coach, and the team played a full schedule in 1971.

“Winning is everything in sports. But in this case, (the important thing) was going back out there,” says Morehouse. “There was every reason in the world to say ‘forget it.’”

Marshall had had a losing team throughout the 1960s, and the program had been kicked out of the Mid-American Conference because of a host of rules violations prior to the 1970 season.

Morehouse says that fielding a team became a weekly reminder of what was lost. But in the end, the rebuilt program “gave people hope.” Marshall eventually won the Division I-AA national title in 1992 and 1996.

Morehouse says he has received e-mails from people who knew his father, and all of them have been positive. One former Marshall player, who was a reserve, wrote that Gene Morehouse treated him as if he was a star on the team.

The Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington created a blog where people can write in memories of the crash. Some of the postings are tear-jerkers, with adults writing about the night of the crash when they were teenagers or even younger.

Morehouse’s mother moved from Huntington to Charlotte in the late 1970s, and she passed away in 1989. He says his mother was a strong individual, raising six children on her own. The family kept attending Marshall home games even after the crash.

“Football in Huntington is a rite. It sort of bonds everyone together,” he says.

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