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Members Of 1970 Shocker Football Team To Honor Fallen Teammates At Arkansas Game

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Abigail Beckman
/
KMUW
(Left to right) Bill Moore, John Potts and Ed Plopa in the KMUW studios ahead of their trip to Arkansas to commemorate a historic game in the history of the Shocker football program.

Members of the 1970 Wichita State football team are heading to a game at the University of Arkansas this weekend. The event is in remembrance of the 31 members of the WSU football program, including players, boosters, coaches and fans who died in a plane crash in Colorado. The Shockers' first game after the crash was against Arkansas. KMUW's Abigail Beckman sat down with Bill Moore, John Potts, and Ed Plopa ahead of their trip.

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Credit KPTS
Shocker lineman during the game against Arkansas. The Razorbacks won the game 62-0 but, in the words of Arkansas captain Chuck Dicus, "the game was about much more than football."

Abigail Beckman: What you three are doing this weekend is really interesting. This is a completely new angle to something that this community has been commemorating and remembering for 46 years. John, you're the one that kind of got this all together. Could you tell us a little bit more about how this visit came to be?

John Potts: I was at an Economic Development Council convention in New Orleans and I ran across a lady named Kate Dixon. She saw the badge that I had on that said I was from Wichita, Kansas, and she asked if I was aware of Wichita State football, and I said, ‘Yes, I was on the team.' She asked if I played in this game with Arkansas that we played right after the crash. I said, 'Yes, I played in a game.' And it was interesting because, you know, her eyes welled up a little bit and she said, 'I was at that game and watched you guys play.'

You know, at the end of the evening I thought that I had met a new friend and we'd stay in touch. And that's pretty much where I left it at that point. I came back home, and a couple of weeks later I get an email from Chuck Dicus from the University of Arkansas. He was the captain of the Razorback team that year. And we just basically started talking about maybe getting a few guys together play some golf, and things of that nature, and it just kind of grew from there.

All three of you played in that game. Bill and John as freshmen, and Ed as a sophomore. Ed, could you maybe explain for people who don't know, why is that game against Arkansas so significant?

Ed Plopa: It was the first game we played after the crash. We put together a team of primarily sophomores and freshmen, and within three weeks of the crash, we were playing a nationally ranked team. There was a difference between the sophomores and the freshman because the freshmen weren't allowed to participate in varsity football at that time. It was an NCAA rule. We got a waiver to let them play on the varsity. So we had to come together and form a team of basically 18- and 19-year-olds. We were such underdogs and nobody even thought that we would play and we ended up showing up for it.

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Credit KPTS
Fans in the stands during the game stand as the Wichita State Shockers take the field.

That decision to continue to play 22 days after the crash was made after losing 14 first stringers and your head coach. Was that decision made as a team? Do you remember the discussion that surrounded that?

Bill Moore: The coaches came to us and said it was up to us if we wanted to continue to play, and we took a vote. And, to a man, everyone voted to continue playing. We thought that's what the other players would have wanted us to do.

Take us back to that moment of walking onto the field for the game against Arkansas, if you can.

Moore: I think one thing that we all remember was walking out on the field. There were 40,000 people there standing up and cheering. It was amazing.

Plopa: Prior to the game we walked around the town of Little Rock, and all the merchants came out and greeted us. Some of them gave us gifts, and they were very hospitable to us. I've been down to the South several times, and it was really Southern hospitality for sure.

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Credit KPTS
Shocker co-captain John Hoheisel, center, takes to the field in War Memorial Stadium. Hoheisel was one of 9 people who survived the crash.

That day is still very vivid for all of you. I'm curious to hear what Chuck Dicus, the captain of the Arkansas team that year, has told you. What kind of things does he remember from the game?

Potts: You know, at that time, Arkansas was at the top of the football world in the NCAA. [Dicus] made it very clear and said, 'We've played in some memorable games, but that game, in particular, really stays with us.' And he said it was such an impact because it was far beyond football and his estimation.

That's something I think is consistent with the crash and the team in general. You know, in talking to people, when Wichita State comes up, so does Wichita State football. I've had tons of people tell me, 'I remember where I was when I heard about that crash.' And I wonder, if you're comfortable with it, if you could share with us where the three of you were that day and how you found out about the accident.

Moore: Well, John and I were freshmen. And October 3rd was supposed to be our first football game as a freshman team. I remember being in the locker room getting ready to go out for the pre-game preparation for the next day. And we didn't go out, and the coaches came in and told us.

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Credit Abigail Beckman / KMUW
A copy of the itinerary for both planes that carried the Wichita State varsity football team. Bill Moore and other members of the team who were in Wichita used the itinerary to try to figure out who survived the crash, who was injured and who didn't make it.

Ed, you were a sophomore that year, so you were on the varsity and traveled with the team, right?

Plopa: Yes. On the second plane, we found out about it after we had landed in Logan, Utah. We were sitting on the apron. I remember looking out over the wing and seeing reporters out there. And I thought to myself, 'They're really covering this game. It's going to be an important game, and they’re going to cover us.' Then one of the assistant coaches was called up to the cockpit, and he came back out. His face was white. He got to the back of the plane and told everybody to stay in their seats. About five minutes later we got the news that the plane went down.

Potts: I think I speak for most everybody when I say I don't know that there's been too many days go by that we don't think about it. Something always brings it up.

Is there anything else you want to share about this upcoming weekend and what you plan to do?

Moore: I just want to say thank you to all of the Arkansas folks for having us down there and for the reception we received when we went there in 1970.

The group will be recognized on the field during the game at Arkansas. They plan to present a plaque to the university thanking them for their continuing support.

Tune in to KMUW at 5 p.m. Friday to hear a rebroadcast of Abigail Beckman's documentary, The Pieces That Remain: Remembering The Wichita State Plane Crash.

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Follow Abigail Beckman on Twitter @AbigailKMUW.

 
To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.