(Photo Courtesy of College of Wooster)
On the night of November 14th, 1970 in Wayne County, W.Va., Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed, killing 75 people. Among the dead were 37 Marshall football players, eight coaches, 25 boosters, two pilots, two flight attendants, and a charter coordinator. It is the single worst air tragedy in NCAA sports history.
Half a century later, the tragedy of that plane crash still affects the Marshall community and the city of Huntington, W.Va. In some form or another, the story of what happened within the Marshall football program and the community as a whole directly following that crash lives on through the Warner Bros. film We Are Marshall.
The film mostly centers around the events after the crash and especially highlights the man who was tasked with leading the Marshall football team, which was made up of almost all freshmen, the year following the tragic crash, Coach Jack Lengyel.
Lengyel came to Marshall from the College of Wooster in Ohio. While at Wooster he was not only the head football coach, but also served as the first head men’s lacrosse coach in program history. Although he is most known for taking the coaching job at Marshall following that tragedy, and rightfully so, he was also a key player in the building of the lacrosse program at Wooster.
The sport of lacrosse arrived at the College of Wooster in 1965 by way of a couple of freshman from Baltimore, Md. who got together and formed a club. As you can imagine, there were very few players that had any skill or experience that first spring. They needed to grow the program and one way they did that was simply playing. Spectators, most of whom had never seen lacrosse before, would walk by and take a keen interest in what they were seeing.
Cliff Roming was The main figure in the development of the Wooster lacrosse program. Roming was a native of Baltimore and had grown up playing lacrosse, but he came to Wooster to play football. He was able to recruit many other football players to come out and try lacrosse. He would teach them how to catch and throw and the other basics about the game that they need to know.
Now, the way that they got their original equipment was by a player who was from Baltimore bringing back a ton of equipment that he had collected after spending spring break in his lacrosse hotbed of a hometown. As for field space, the Wooster team was allowed to practice and play games on the field next to the football facility. So, they essentially had to create their own field. They would line the field themselves with chalk that they borrowed from the football team and they had to go out and buy pipes to build their own goals.
Wooster’s first game was a scrimmage against Oberlin in 1965. They lost that first contest, 16-2, but it is said that they had a respectable showing.
The members that had started the lacrosse club during the spring of 1965 sent a letter to the board of trustees to try and get lacrosse recognized as a varsity sport the next year, but it ultimately failed even through they even had the support of other college coaches that were on the board of the USILA. The program continued as, essentially, a player-run club team until the spring of 1968 after the NCAA sent a letter to the school inviting the lacrosse program to join as a varsity.
The letter was sent as a result of them having some success, which included two winning seasons, and proving to opposing programs and coaches that they were a legitimate program despite having zero funding. The College of Wooster Board of Trustees accepted the invitation, which led to lacrosse beginning play as a varsity sport in the spring of 1968.
With the program now elevated to varsity status, they need a coach. And the school turned to their head football coach at the time, Jack Lengyel.
In their first season as a varsity program, Lengyel led the Scots to a 7-1 record. However, their next two seasons weren’t as promising, as they went 1-5 in 1969 and 1970. Lengyel left the school ahead of the 1971 season to take the head football job at Marshall, where his legacy has stood much longer. In all, Lengyel went 10-11 in his three years as the head coach at Wooster. However, he is the eighth-winningest coach in program history with a .476 win percentage.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Lengyel had likely only known a bit about the sport from his time serving as an assistant football coach at Cornell prior to arriving at Wooster (1963-1965). And while he will always be remembered as a key figure in the story of Marshall football, he also holds a place, albeit a small one, in lacrosse history as well.
Lengyel never coached lacrosse again after leaving Wooster and hung up his whistle for good in 1974. However, he had a lenghty career as a college athletics administrator. Most notable, he served as the athletic director at Fresno State from 1983-1986, Missouri from 1986-1988, and Navy, where he hired legendary lacrosse coach Richie Meade, from 1988-2001. He was recently named to Wooster’s W Association most recent Hall of Fame class.
Here are Some Articles from Wooster student newspapers in the 1960s that featured the lacrosse team in their early days. (Photo’s courtesy of The College of Wooster)
*Note: Some of these papers contain language that we no longer deem as acceptable today. Please keep in mind the time period.*