A ride, 50-years in the making

GHS community honors 50th anniversary of bus wreck

September 20, 2021

It was a long ride for Bill Marshall to the Gunnison High School (GHS) football game last Saturday. In fact, it was one fifty years in the making. 

On September 11, 1971, the GHS football team was traveling to their game in Salida when a tragedy occurred. Just after summiting Monarch Pass, the bus lost control of its brakes, resulting in it crashing just past the small town of Garfield. 

Marshall was a member of the 1971 team and part of the bus crash that devastated Gunnison’s community. Fifty years later, Marshall made the journey back over Monarch this time to deliver the game ball to the 50th anniversary homecoming football game. 

Riding for remembrance

Forever a Cowboy, Marshall delivers game ball

Marshall, a GHS graduate of 1974, is a devoted member of the 1971 GHS Football Memorial Foundation. Today he uses his voice to spread awareness for bus safety after his experience with this tragic event 50 years ago. 

Memories of that day are what inspire Marshall to spread gratitude about life experiences and encourage others to be thankful for every day on this earth. He still continues to remember his teammates and the coach that passed away on that fateful day. 

“This being the 50th anniversary, I wanted to try and do something that had never been done before to raise awareness and remembrance to those that we lost fifty years ago,” said Marshall. 

The GHS alumni had a custom ball designed specifically for the 50th anniversary game, which includes all of the victims’ names and jersey numbers. His goal was to raise money for the 1971 GHS Football Memorial Foundation by riding from Salida to Gunnison to deliver this game ball.  

As Marshall rode onto the field on Saturday, September 11, many felt a personal connection to this event, which affected so many. The presentation of the football left bystanders in tears, while some students gained their first glimpse into the legacy of what it means to be a Gunnison Cowboy. 

Marshall continues to inspire younger generations when it comes to personal friendships and loved ones:

“My overall message to younger generations today is that if you have a close relationship with a friend, take the time to tell them how much they mean to you,” said Marshall. “I tell my young daughter this every day: tell people that you love them and how much they mean to you, because the next day they can be gone.”

Learning to look back

50th anniversary an opportunity for students

Fifty years ago eight students and a coach died in a horrific bus crash on Monarch Pass, and GHS commemorated this event throughout Homecoming week. 

While most of the students at GHS are aware of the accident, for many it was the first time hearing the stories first hand. 

GHS stayed a tightly-knit community throughout the tragedy and has honored the students (and coach) ever since. While those students’ lives were cut short, they still live on as an important part of Gunnison’s history.

According to GHS teacher Wyatt Phipps, the pride was obvious in the football team’s performance on Saturday.

“They’re real proud,” said Phipps. “They’re not playing for themselves out there, they’re playing for those players from the bus crash.”

GHS students were filled with school pride throughout the week while honoring the people who lost their lives. The experience was a special opportunity for the students of GHS learn about what actually happened and how much it impacted their school community.

“It’s a sad thing, but I think it’s good that the football game is able to happen on the same day,” said sophomore Lane Stickler.

While the bus crash has brought the community together, it still hurt and scarred the people involved, and their loved ones. 

“It must be hard on the families that lost their children in the crash,” said senior Angela Haugh.

Lacie Wise, a student teach for Bob Howard, brings a very unique perspective to the school because she graduated from GHS and is now back to teach with Howard. Wise is excited to see that we keep the tradition of honoring those students. 

“I think that it’s an honor to get to be a part of something so significant to the Gunnison community and I’m excited that I get to come back to the high school after graduating and get to be a part of something so honorable and commemorative,” said Wise.

Even after 50 years, this event has made students ponder some important things involving their own responsibilities on the road.

Students all over Gunnison have cars and drive inside and outside of town. Being able to drive safely is a very valuable lesson that can be learned from the tragic bus crash 50 years ago. This event scarred the Gunnison community and now future generations can learn from this and drive safely.

From a teacher’s perspective

Howard grew up in the shadows of the GHS tragedy

Bob Howard has lived in the Gunnison Valley his entire life. Howard graduated from GHS in 1987 and later became a teacher and coach of various Cowboy athletic teams.

At the time of the crash, however, Howard was only two years-old. And for a long time, he doesn’t remember anybody ever saying anything about the bus crash. 

 “The way we dealt with it was we didn’t talk about it,” said Howard, now a history teacher and assistant for the football team.

The community continued to live in silence up until the school was remodeled around the 40th anniversary of the wreck. 

“When we revamped the school, they put the football stadium down here and that was really the first time we had much of a talk about that,” Howard continued. “When we commemorated the stadium, we had a discussion with the kids that were playing at the time about how precious the moment was and I think that when we bring it up, that is the thing to take away from it.”

According to Howard, the 50th anniversary had far more involvement from the community compared to previous years. At the 25th anniversary, students and staff retired the jerseys of the fallen athletes, which are now showcased in the GHS commons. 

On the 40th anniversary, the 1971 GHS Football Memorial Foundation was created and Memorial Stadium was founded. Each school year, the foundation gives out two scholarships to GHS graduates. 

This year at the 50th anniversary, more than 1,000 spectators packed in to Memorial Stadium to once again commemorate the loss of the eight athletes and coach.

To find more information or to donate, contact the 1971 GHS Football Memorial Foundation at www.1971ghsfootballmemorial.org, or Roxie Rule at 970-275-5326 and Matt Robbins at 970-596-0715.

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