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MCGILL: Christmas, Holidays Provide Special Memories for Herd Family

Dec. 24, 2016

By Chuck McGill

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Herd fans.

This is my first December as the assistant athletic director for fan/donor engagement and communications at Marshall University. My position here has been such a blessing to me and my family, particularly my wife, Lauren, and our 4-year-old son, Gunnar. Being able to work inside this athletic department with such wonderful people on a daily basis is like a dream come true.

Getting to share the stories of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and people connected with this great university is a gift far greater than anything someone could wrap and put under a tree. There is nothing better than getting to meet Marshall fans here in Huntington and beyond. There is a warmth and comfort that comes with being part of this school, this town, this athletic department and this fan base. It feels like family here.

That is why, below, you’ll find Christmas stories from our athletic department members. They are part of my family, and once upon a time they were like my 4-year-old son, who has been eagerly anticipating this Christmas. My holidays were always magical as a child. I believed. I wished. And I thank my parents for investing so much time and effort to make so many Christmases memorable for me. I do the same for my son. He cannot wait to leave chocolate chip cookies and a glass of chocolate milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (note: he believes chocolate milk is for adults; white milk is for kids). He will leave carrots out for the reindeer. And then he’ll peacefully drift to sleep before racing downstairs the next morning to see what the big guy left him under the tree.

That was me about three decades ago. Here are some of our athletic department staff members’ favorite Christmas and holiday memories, in their own words.

Mike Hamrick, Director of Athletics:

“We would stay up all night, stay awake as long as we could, and me and my brother would stay up and act like we were asleep but we would really be awake hoping that we could see Santa Claus bringing in the gifts. Finally, we’d fall asleep, and then whichever one woke up first woke the other one up. Christmas was a big deal. We were always fortunate enough to have presents. I can remember one year I got up in the middle of the night and walked downstairs and looked under the Christmas tree and there was a little bicycle there and I was so scared I ran back up the stairs and got under the covers and laid there for three hours until it got daylight and my brother woke up, and then we back downstairs. The best Christmas was when we both got shotguns at the same time. We were like 12 or 13. We both got .410 single shot shotguns. We still have them and still hunt with them. Our stuff was all sports, hunting and fishing, a new baseball glove or new bat, new pair of running shoes, new football cleats. All sports stuff. That’s all we wanted.”

Mark Gale, Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations

“I can remember when I was really young growing up on the horse ranch. My father went to the extreme as far as putting out feed and hay for the reindeer, and he would go in the middle of the night and get a horse out and have the horses make their hoof prints into the snow or into the wet ground and then eat the feed and the hay. Not only did we see if Santa Claus ate the cookies and the milk, but we had to make sure the reindeer got their fill too. We’d look outside and see some of the grain missing and some of the hay missing and you saw their hoof prints in the snow, if it had snowed. It wasn’t just about Santa, but we had to make sure his transportation was taken care of too. I remember in the middle of the night -- my brother and I had bunkbeds -- and hearing a loud noise and getting up the next morning and seeing the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots underneath the tree. Whether it was my father and mother who were going back and forth … that’s the noise that we heard in the middle of the night. I really think my fondest memories are at my grandmother’s, and she had a back porch that had a couple of beds and it was right off the kitchen. Being awoken to the smell to what you knew was going to be an absolutely phenomenal meal that day. As a child, those are some of the memories I have.”

Steve Cotton, Voice of the Thundering Herd

“I grew up on the farm next to my dad’s family, so we were out in the middle of nowhere and we said mom’s family lived out in the middle of nowhere. Her family literally hunted for, fished for and grew everything they ate. They didn’t have a whole lot. Hunting was a huge part of their family and my dad hunted too. So, Christmas 12 years old, I had my heart set on a pump-action .410 shotgun. Before that, for a couple years since I had been rabbit hunting, I used my uncle’s hand-me-down single-shot .410. That was cool. I had a blast with it. But I thought the pump-action would be the ultimate. That was a pretty expensive gift for us, so I didn’t know that I’d really get that. That was shootin’ for the moon. But I got up that morning, ran into the living room and there under the Christmas tree, there it is: Mossberg pump-action .410. I don’t remember anything else about that day. I loved Christmas. Younger brother, younger sister. I have no idea about any other gift that anybody got. Mom always made the big traditional turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing kind of dinner, which I loved. I don’t remember that at all. I couldn’t wait to get all of that wrapped up and out of the way and get it done. In northern Michigan, the days are very short at that time of the year. I needed to get all of that wrapped up and done. I hurry up, I help do the dishes and hope there is enough daylight so my dad and I can go rabbit hunting on Christmas Day. It got dark in a hurry, never saw a rabbit, but it didn’t matter. That was the greatest Christmas ever. And it was snowing when we went out there. It was the perfect Christmas.”

Brooke Bellomy, Women’s Golf Coach

“When we were younger my grandparents had a condo at Canaan Valley, so until I was about 12 years old we’d spend almost every Christmas there. We’d ski, we’d open some presents and that was our main thing -- all of the family would be together. When we got older we decided to stay at home more. When I was probably, gosh, 16 or 17 my grandpa passed away and everything kind of changed. I think I was 14 years old on Christmas Day and I got one those things that you can put on the basketball hoop and it clips on and when you shoot it and make it the ball comes back to you. When I was 14 I will always remember that because my grandpa and I spent a few days after Christmas, the weather was good, and I probably got up two or three hundred shots per day. We spent hours out there shooting basketball.”

Aaron Goebbel, Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs (younger brother of MU assistant football coach Todd Goebbel)

“We usually don’t finish the meal before my brothers and my dad are watching film. There are sometimes when my mother is not really excited that the meal is not finished before they’re in a room somewhere breaking down some sort of a pass play or run play or protection. Christmas with our family growing up is just a younger version of what we do now. One of the funniest stories we had was … my grandparents lived in Bradenton, Florida, half of the year. We’d leave Columbus, jump in the big van and take the whole family down for Christmas. Every year was a football-themed Christmas gift to all of us. I was the youngest of three and I was big enough to where our parents did a combination of your favorite NFL football team helmet and your favorite NFL team pajamas. There was a Colts helmet, Browns helmet and Chiefs helmet. This is on video. Todd, being the oldest, he was the first to go and got the football and pajamas -- they were known as jammies to him -- and we have a video of this kid going ballistic that he got football jammies. When I say ballistic I mean that in the most excited, absurd way that you’ll ever see in your life. I think he was 12 years old and all he was like, “MOM! DAD! I GOT FOOTBALL JAMMIES! SANTA BROUGHT ME FOOTBALL JAMMIES! HOW DID HE KNOW?” Football and athletics was going to be anything and everything that consumed our life, but especially our holidays. To this day, you will not have a Christmas go by where my dad or somebody when someone is opening a present he will yell out “IS IT FOOTBALL JAMMIES?” Todd graciously goes along with it because he knows how funny it was. That was the start of our fandom with the game of football and sports in general.

Todd Goebbel, Assistant Football Coach

“Anytime you have two younger brothers and you’re all sports-minded, then Christmas revolves around bowl games, football, sports memorabilia and sports equipment. Every Christmas we were very fortunate to walk down from our rooms and we each had a pile of different gifts and we all knew whose was what. Usually in that pile was a football, a basketball, a baseball, some type of jersey or helmet. It was fun. It was a day, first and foremost, of giving, but it was always neat to get the gifts we got. The football jammies deal … I can’t even remember what age I was. I came down and I guess they had come out with one heck of pair of football pajamas. My excitement for athletics and my excitements for sports and for, apparently, football jammies definitely showed up that day. I don’t think I’ve lived that down since, to be honest with you.”

Scott Morehouse, Associate Athletic Director for Game Operations and Facilities

“Christmas was always big in our house. All of my buddies got these big birthday gifts and we never got that. I didn’t like cake so I’d get like a cookie and a T-shirt for my birthday, but Christmas was big. You try to stay up all night and you never could make it and you run down at 4 or 5 in the morning and see all of this stuff. It was always awesome when you were a little kid. We always got great gifts and Santa was always great to us. I think the one year that always stands out was -- I might have been toward the end of elementary school or the beginning of junior high -- and my brother got this big stereo system. It had the regular tape deck, the record player and the big, tall speakers and everything. It was an expensive Christmas gift. My big gift was a diamondback bicycle and I kept telling my mom that my brother’s stuff cost twice as much as mine. She goes, ‘You got to pick one thing, one big item.’ So I said, ‘OK.’ It came to Christmas morning and my brother knew he was getting the stereo and I knew I was getting the bike, but my mom also bought me a Sega Genesis. I had no idea. It was like the Christmas of all of Christmas mornings.”