By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
November 14, 1970, is a day that will be forever remembered in the minds and hearts of local football fans.
Because on that fateful day, Southwest Airways Flight 932 crashed, killing 37 members of the Marshall University football team, including coaches, fans, family members and the flight crew.
It remains the biggest single tragedy in the history of collegiate athletics in this country.
It’s a memorable date, especially in these parts, because three local standouts, namely Marcel Lajterman, Ted Shoebridge and Kevin Gilmore, all perished on that flight, along with another New Jersey resident, Art Harris of Passaic.
Lajterman and Shoebridge were natives of Lyndhurst, with Gilmore the proud son of Harrison.
That fateful crash, brought back into the limelight with the release of the popular motion picture, “We Are Marshall,” starring Matthew McConaghey, in 2006, is an event that will never go away, because of the massive impact it had locally.
Throughout this year, the Meadowlands Museum, located on Crane Ave. in Rutherford, has been focusing on the sport of football and its deep roots locally.
Last Monday night, the Meadowlands Museum remembered the Thundering Herd of Marshall, especially the four local natives who lost their lives on that flight.
In a special presentation and exhibit, the Meadowlands Museum honored the memories of Lajterman, Shoebridge, Harris and Gilmore. Special plaques, featuring their faces and achievements, were on display, while several people spoke of the athletes that were lost.
Tom Longo, perhaps the greatest football player to ever come from Lyndhurst, was invited to be the guest speaker. Longo, the former Notre Dame standout who played in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants, personally knew the players from Lyndhurst who perished.
“The whole exhibit was a great success,” said Longo, who played defensive back in the NFL from 1969 through 1971. “Everyone brought their memories and it was my honor and thrill to talk about those boys. I knew them and their families. It seems like it happened yesterday. I thought that Ted Shoebridge and Art Harris were NFL prospects, Sunday players as we called them.”
Harris was a standout running back for the Thundering Herd, with Shoebridge as the starting quarterback. Lajterman was the team’s placekicker and Gilmore was a reserve running back.
“It was a big honor for me, because I remember Ted being called the next Tommy Longo,” Longo said. “I felt honored to be mentioned in the same breath.”
For some of the family members, the evening brought back good memories of their loved ones.
“I think something like this helps to keep all the boys alive,” said Tom Shoebridge, Ted’s brother and the current Lyndhurst High School track and field coach. “It’s good to have something local representing them. What happens at Marshall is one thing. No one ever forgets them there. But events like this helps to keep my brother alive here.”
Shoebridge said that he didn’t know of the exhibit until he heard from the board at the Meadowlands Museum.
“It kind of caught me by surprise,” Shoebridge said. “But it was an absolute honor to have something here in our own backyard. I just wish my Mom and Dad were here to see it.”
It was a good night for the Shoebridge family, as another brother, Terry, attended the event.
“Plus, Tommy Longo is always there for anyone in Lyndhurst,” Tom Shoebridge said. “He’s a credit to our community and our school system.”
Sharon Gilmore Catrambone, who still resides in Harrison and is a municipal employee, was also happy to represent her family and her late brother.
“It makes me feel like we’re trying to keep Kevin alive, for my children and grandchildren,” Catrambone said. “I hope this makes them realize just how great he was. They did a good job focusing on Kevin. It was very touching that they took the time to share our memories. It was a very special night. I feel honored to have been asked to be a part of it. My family feels that way as well.”
Rod Leith, Meadowlands Museum board president, was also pleased to have honored the fallen players and their families.
“We wanted to have a program of remembrance for the local fellows,” Leith said. “It worked out very well. Tom Longo as the key speaker was a big help. He spoke of his personal relationships with the players. I really felt it was a strong way to help bring back the memories.”
Leith said having Longo was a huge plus.
“He’s a class act and was very important to this exhibit,” Leith said. “He brings a lot to the table. We’re fortunate to always have Tom’s participation.”
“I wanted to be involved,” Longo said. “Some of these guys were from my hometown of Lyndhurst. It was very good for the families to talk. It’s good to give them recognition.”
Mo Lajterman, who also went on to become a standout placekicker like his brother, spoke on behalf of the Lajterman family. Both Lajterman and Shoebridge’s football uniform numbers have been retired by Lyndhurst High School.
Leith said that the Meadowlands Museum has been scheduling events that appeal to local residents.
“We’re trying to put the museum back on the map again,” said Leith, who watched the rebirth of the Meadowlands Museum last August after being closed for a spell. “We’ve been getting a lot of visitors.” To coincide with the Super Bowl coming to MetLife Stadium, the museum held a Historic Schoolboy Football Exhibit, with several pieces of pertinent memorabilia, rare photos and other artifacts featuring local high school football standouts from the 1920s through the 1960s, like Vince Lombardi, Augie Lio, Bob DeMarco, Jack Tatum and Stan Walters, the latter three all having played in the Super Bowl.
The exhibit was on display throughout Super Bowl week as well as the month of February.
So the Meadowlands Museum did a fine thing honoring the local members of that horrific plane crash and remembering them with their families.
For more on the Meadowlands Museum, log on to www. meadowlandsmuseum.com