BLUEFIELD — Tom Munsey still doesn’t know why Jim Moss had a nickname like ‘Shorty.’

“He was 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and a good-looking man,” said Munsey, who was an assistant football coach, along with Moss, at Bluefield High School in 1963. “I went to Concord and our running backs didn’t look like that.

“He was a running back at West Virginia. He was big, but unless he was shorter than his dad or brother, I’m not sure where that name came from because it didn’t fit his stature.”

The 1963 season wasn’t especially memorable on the field for the tradition-rich Beavers. Bluefield finished 6-3-1, but it did mark the beginning of a close-knit, but short-lived relationship between Munsey and Moss, who was the offensive coordinator at Marshall in 1970 when a tragic plane crash ended his life.

“Jim was a great football coach. I just met Shorty for the first time when I moved to Bluefield,” said the 65-year-old Munsey. “We developed a really good relationship.

“We roomed together near the railroad tracks in a big, three-story house and we had the whole third floor. He was a good teacher, and he turned out to be a great friend of mine.”

Munsey and Moss were assistants, along with John Chmara, under the tutelage of Merrill Gainer in ‘63.

“Jim did a little bit of everything, offensive and defensive lines, while I mostly did the scout team and worked with the JV,” Munsey said. “Back then you only had a limited number of coaches so you had to do quite a bit in a lot of areas.”

While Gainer and Chmara combined to win 217 games and six state championships from 1959-1985, Munsey would become a long-time assistant coach at Winter Park High School in Orlando, Fla. Still, that ‘63 campaign set the foundation for ‘65 when the Beavers finished 11-0 and won the Class AAA state championship.

“We weren’t as good as Bluefield was accustomed to being, and I don’t know why,” Munsey said. “Maybe it was our fault, but those kids that were sophomores won a state championship two years later.”

As for Moss, he wound up at Marshall from 1968-70. His life, much like 74 other players, coaches and community leaders, came to a sudden end when the plane carrying the Thundering Herd football team from a loss at East Carolina crashed on approach to the Huntington airport on Nov. 14, 1970.

While Moss was a star at Huntington East High School and enjoyed a stellar career at West Virginia — even serving as captain in 1962 — Munsey was equally proficient at Concord, having played at Pearisburg High School before venturing to Athens.

Both had tryouts in the NFL, Moss with the New York Giants and Munsey with the Minnesota Vikings. Neither made it, but that’s when their paths crossed. Moss was also drafted by the Oakland Raiders.

“Fortunately we both came to Bluefield and coach Gainer was able to give us a coaching job on his staff,” Munsey said. “I had never met Shorty until I moved to Bluefield.”

Munsey and Moss also became teammates, playing for the Charleston (W.Va) Rockets of the Continental League. Both would move on, with Munsey heading to Florida and Moss taking a coaching position at Marshall.

However, that duo stayed close, with Moss serving as a groom in Munsey’s wedding in Clarksburg, W.Va.

“He was in my wedding so we stayed awfully close,” said Munsey, who added that Moss’ father died soon after the crash. “I came to Florida in 1969 and he was at Marshall and died in that plane crash in 1970 so that took care of that.

“Six years was as long as that relationship lasted...We were tight after we met until he got killed.”

Moss married a Bluefield resident named Cokie Sutherland. While she is now living in Texas, Munsey regrets that he lost all contact with her after that awful November night. Moss was just 29 when he died.

“I remember that it was a Saturday night and I had been out,” Munsey said. “My mother was waiting for me and she said, “Everybody in the world is trying to call you’.

“I probably knew pretty quick after it happened. Cokie, his wife, called me and told me about the situation. That is maybe the last conversation that I had with her.”

Munsey has always regretted losing track of Sutherland, who now resides in Texas.

“I don’t know what happened to her, I’m sure she’s remarried, but I’ve not had any contact with her since the accident,” Munsey said. “She didn’t come to Florida any and we didn’t get back to West Virginia.

“I guess she slipped through the cracks and she didn’t get in contact with us. I know she had a daughter (Andrea), but I don’t know much about her after we got separated. I hope Cokie is doing fine.

“I would like to know where she is and be able to talk to her. I’ve lost complete touch with her and I’ve always felt bad about that.”

Munsey never forget his friendship with Moss, and when the movie ‘We Are Marshall” was released, Munsey went, and memories came rushing back.

“You kind of get on your own life,” Munsey said, “but you go watch that movie and it brings back a lot of memories.”

Another Marshall assistant, Red Dawson, who didn’t get on that plane, was a former teammate of Munsey’s with the Orlando Panthers. Moss hasn’t seen Dawson for years, but he had fond memories of Red.

“I saw the movie and I thought it was well done,” Munsey said. “It showed a little bit of the (crash) aftermath, but it dwelled on other things.

“I played with Red Dawson, but I haven’t seen him in a real long time. He was an extremely nice fellow and good football coach. He had a part making sure all the facts were straight, and he’s lived in Huntington ever since the plane crash.”

Munsey was pleased to see that the movie focused more on the rebuilding of Marshall and the Huntington community than on the actual crash.

“That was the thing at the end of the movie, it said that Marshall had the worst football team in NCAA history for the decade of the ‘70s,” Munsey said.

“All of a sudden they win three (Division 1-AA) national championships, and go to two or three bowl games.

“That is very impressive, I keep up with all the West Virginia teams. That’s a tribute to West Virginia and Marshall for how successful they have been.”

Munsey still gets to West Virginia as often he can, having maintained several close relationships, including with Princeton residents Ted Gillespie and Tony Mandeville.

“I went to Concord for four years and coached in Bluefeld for a year, and I lived in Charleston for five years so I love West Virginia,” Munsey said. “I come up every summer and play golf and I attend homecoming at Concord every year.

“I love it up there, I’ve still got a lot of relationships still up there.

“We had a lot of good times together.”

There are times, especially recently, that Munsey yearns for those days in Bluefield.

“It would be nice if I could pull all that up again,” Munsey said. “That was good times, really good times.”

—Contact Brian Woodson


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