Nov. 19, 2012
***The following piece appeared in the Nov. 17 game program.***
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It has nothing to do with UFOs in 1947, but in Roswell, N.M., some residents must have been wondering whether some aliens had shown up again this fall.
In a Roswell Youth Football League filled with the usual nicknames – Cowboys, Steelers, Spartans, Cardinals, Bulldogs, Bears – a team of 16 boys played as the Herd.
Yes, they were named for the Marshall Thundering Herd, and they were a lot like the 1971 Marshall team that started the rebuilding of the MU program following a plane crash that took 75 lives.
They weren’t as experienced as most in the league. There were too many kids registered when the league was ready to draft, so an expansion team was created – and many of the Herd were passed over by other teams.
Its coach, Andra Cheatem, decided the Marshall history would be part of what he wanted to teach these dozen 9-year-olds and four 10-year olds.
“Talking with my brother who is also a coach, we got to talking about how all of the other teams in the league would be bigger, stronger, faster and older than we are,” Cheatem said. “We wanted to play old-school football, hard-nosed football and that’s exactly what we teach our team.
“There are no shortcuts … We do not pick on the little guy to beat the big guy in front of us.”
Cheatem said the Herd finished the season 0-11 and in last place …
“But the great thing about it was how our guys kept coming back, kept fighting, kept battling,” Cheatem said. “They played hard all the time.”
They wore kelly green jerseys and white pants. Their socks were the throwback kind, white with three horizontal green stripes.
“Before and after every game,” Cheatem said, “the boys do the ‘We Are … Marshall.’ They take a lot of pride in it. They’ve gone online and read the stories about the team and the plane crash. They can tell you the history.
“When we started, about three of them had seen the (2006) movie. All of them have watched it since then. They make a connection because that (Herd) team started from the bottom. Our team was an expansion team with all young players nobody else wanted.
“I thought about Marshall, and since Randy Moss was there, I’ve rooted for the Herd. I thought about how Marshall went from (Division I-AA) to the big time, and I felt like if we were going to have a team, I wanted to do it old-school, so we did.”
Cheatem, 30, is a native New Mexican. He has no connection to Marshall other than being a fan. He’s a sales representative for AT&T, and he recently contacted the Marshall football office to let the “real” Herd know there were a bunch of little guys wearing the colors – albeit 1,400 miles away.
So, what happened when he told his team it was going to be the Herd?
“It was, ‘Huh? … What?’” Cheatem said, laughing.
“But we wanted to be different. We told them the story and they really got into it,” he said. “You mention ‘Marshall’ and everybody knows about the plane crash and what those teams in the ‘90s did, winning championships. The movie just opened more people’s eyes to it. It’s a great story, and it’s a stable program and it has history.
“The idea to do this came one night when the movie came on and I said to my brother, ‘We’re going to be the Herd,’ but I told him we had to find those old-timey socks.
“The main thing was we wanted to use the season as a teaching tool about more than playing football. We wanted it to be a learning experience. Education is the key, whether it’s good, bad, tragedy, success. We wanted to dedicate the season to a cause.”
Cheatem said that when it came time to order uniforms, it wasn’t the standard operating procedure.
“We said we wanted green jerseys, and the company the league orders from said they had dark green,” the Herd coach said. “I told him we didn’t want dark. Besides, the Spartans were in our league and they wear dark green. I told them we wanted the lighter green.
“They came back with the lighter green color, the kelly. That wasn’t that hard. The hardest part was finding those old-school socks, but we did.”
He has asked the Marshall football program if next season, the Herd could use the official Marshall block M logo on its uniform, too. Mark Gale, Marshall’s Associate Athletic Director for Football Operations, said the MU program hopes to continue its relationship with the Roswell youth team and league.
Gale also has posted the team photo of the 16 boys in a glass case outside the Marshall team locker room, with an explanation about the Roswell team’s using the Herd nickname.
Cheatem said to forget the record. The 2012 season was a success for the Herd.
“These boys will never forget the 1970 Marshall team,” he said. “They know the story, the history. That’s what important about this.”
Veteran sports journalist Jack Bogaczyk writes “The Word on the Herd” for HerdZone.com and is Editor of the Herd Insider.