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Saturday Marks 50 Years Since Lamar Tragedy

first_imgLamar’s current coach is doing his best to shape his program in the image of those squads Terrell built in the 1960s, and Clark makes sure to tell the story of the men whose lives were cut short in the 1968 crash and make sure their legacy lives on. He displays a hand-painted picture of the deceased athletes in his office – it used to hang in McDonald Gym – and the trophy from Lamar’s mile relay win in the 1968 Border Olympics. Both items are a key part of the story Clark tells to prospective Cardinals. Considering the emotional impact of the tragedy and the amount of talent and leadership that Lamar lost that day, the team rebounded rather quickly. The next season the Cardinals took home second place at the conference championships under Carl Babcock, and two seasons later Big Red had its first conference crown since the tragedy with the 1971 title. “It all started two weeks after the accident. Our conference track meet was scheduled, and we thought we were going to win that year,” said Smith. “We’d finished second to Abilene Christian every year before, but we thought we had it that time. We lost all our best athletes, but the guys that did perform managed to score 47 points and finish fourth of five teams. That showed a lot of character. When we won in 1971 that was our first Southland Conference championship. Some of the members of the 1971 team were freshmen in 1968, and they did their best to dedicate their performance to the 1968 team.” Adding to their success in Iowa, Richardson joined the trio of Favazza, Thomas and Clewis to run the anchor leg of the sprint-medley relay. With Richardson setting a blistering pace in the final half mile, the Cardinals recorded a fourth-place finish in the event. Despite the weight of the tragedy on the athletics department and the university, the remaining members of the track and field team elected to compete in the Southland Conference Championships the following week. Vern Crowder, an associate professor in the physical education department, was charged with the responsibility of getting the team prepared for the championship meet. The shorthanded squad rallied to finish fourth that season led by two first-place finishes from Doug Boone. The Cardinals eyed the 1968 season as a benchmark for the successful program that Terrell had built during his time in Beaumont. Terrell, who took over the program in 1955, methodically built it into national respectability. The gem of that program was the mile-relay squad of sophomores Delaune, Favazza, Clewis and junior Thomas. “This program has done many different things to keep the memory of Coach Terrell and the Cardinals alive,” said Clark. “When letter jackets were a part of college athletics, Coach Babcock handed out letter jackets with blue wings on them that commemorated the 1968 team. The football team (also coached by Ty Terrell) once had blue helmets as well.” “It has to tell the story of those men who were representative of Lamar and Southeast Texas,” said Clark. “They were good athletes and respectful young men who you just want to have remembered. To me it should have a way of telling a story that shows what they represent. They are the foundation for this program. I’m really mindful of not just their achievements but how they carried themselves as well. In the time that has passed since that tragic day, many things have changed. The campus has gone through several changes and upgrades, new buildings have been built, records have fallen and championships have been won, but the memory of that tragic day has never been lost on the people of the Golden Triangle. There is a daily reminder for anyone who happens to pass by the university’s track and field venue. The home of LU track and field bears the name of the coach they lost on that dark day – Ty Terrell Track. “It was really devastating to them,” said Lamar head coach Trey Clark. “They were some special guys and a special coach that did a great job of representing this university and Texas as a whole, not just athletically but how they acted and carried themselves. And there was an impact not just here but in Des Moines as well. When we returned to Drake in 1999 an elderly gentleman at the airport found me and said, ‘I’ve looked every year since 1968 for a team to come back. That tragedy had a profound impact on me.'” “Coach Ty Terrell built our track program from the ground up and crafted it into a nationally-renowned powerhouse,” said Director of Athletics Marco Born. “His legacy resounds today in the track facility that our student-athletes get to practice on every day, the caliber of student-athlete we’re able to recruit to Beaumont, and the championships we’ve won before and since that tragic day on April 28, 1968. But the true legacy of Terrell and the six Cardinals who passed in that plane crash 50 years ago is their love of the sport that is evident even now.” As for a permanent memorial at Lamar, no definitive plans yet exist. But when the time does finally come, Clark knows just how to tell the story. In addition to the pilot and Coach Terrell, the members of the LU track and field team who perished that day included Randy Clewis, Mike Favazza, Don Delaune, John Richardson, and Waverly Thomas. Almost lost in the darkness of the tragedy was a silver lining that the tragedy could have been worse for the university. Another athlete – Johnny Fuller – also made the trip to Des Moines, Iowa, with the rest of the team. A multi-sport athlete for the Cardinals, Fuller was selected to compete in Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium prior to the Drake Relays in an effort to build excitement for the upcoming Summer Olympics. After spending two weeks in Mexico City, Fuller came home for a day before heading to the Drake Relays. Since he had spent significant time away from his family, Fuller elected to catch an earlier flight home and he left Des Moines separate from his teammates. “That weekend we didn’t have an event at home so I was out at the beach. I found out about the accident when I heard about it on a radio station in Houston early in the morning on Sunday,” said Joe Lee Smith, Lamar’s sports information director from 1963-79 and 1993-96. “At first I was totally shocked, and it still affects me every year. This date never passes without me pausing to remember. I was 29 at the time, and I traveled with them several times. They came to my office all the time, so I was particularly close with several members of the track team. Coach Terrell was a mentor of mine when I first came to Lamar in 1963 and a hell of a coach. They were all good athletes, good students, and great people.” The team was returning from a late season meet in Iowa – the Drake Relays – a nationally competitive meet that continues to attract the top programs from around the nation. Tragically, the flight was on its initial approach into the Beaumont Municipal Airport and crashed just a mile short of the runway. It is the common-accepted belief that McCall suffered from coronary arteriosclerosis and suffered heart attack upon approach. Story by Cooper Welch, Lamar AthleticsBEAUMONT, Texas — In the early morning hours of Sunday, April 28th, 1968, what was then known as Lamar State College of Technology suffered through the darkest period in its history. Many awoke that morning to the news that seven of its brightest stars were extinguished when five members of the track and field team, head coach Ty Terrell, and pilot E.W. McCall were killed in a plane crash on their way back from the Drake Relays. Saturday marks 50 years since that tragic day overwhelmed not only the university but the entire Golden Triangle. Just days before leaving for Des Moines, the Cards’ mile-relay team made the nation take notice when they posted one of the country’s top times at the Border Olympics. Big Red posted a similar result at the Drake Relays as one of the two schools to beat the meet record in the event, and finishing second to only Texas. The Cardinals’ time of 3:07.3 was the third fastest in the world at the time. At the end of the day when my career is over I hope to have left a legacy that comes close to theirs.” “The team was still sleeping,” Fuller told the Beaumont Enterprise. “I told one of the guys, ‘tell coach Terrell I flew home’ and that was the last time I saw them.” “I was 18 and that was pretty traumatic for me,” said Barry Collins to the Beaumont Enterprise. Collins was on the ’68 team but was not part of the group which qualified for the Drake Relays. “It was denial at first. It took a while for me to regain my focus. It was tough for some of us and for others it was a motivating tool.”last_img read more