Now available for purchase is Salem native Mark O’Connell’s book, “The Team the Titans Remember, The 1971 Andrew Lewis High School Football Team: the Final Link to a Lasting Legacy.” It’s 757 pages of memories old time Salem football fans will cherish and more recent fans will love reading about.
The book starts with a forward by Lewis great Carey Casey and covers the seasons from 1959 to 1971, when Andrew Lewis High School played in the state championship game against T.C. Williams of Alexandria. The game, won by a juggernaut T.C. Williams “Titans” team that combined three schools from the previous year, was immortalized in the movie “Remember the Titans,” and that sewed the seeds for O’Connell’s book.
“The seeds of inspiration were planted after I saw the movie,” said O’Connell. “I was like everyone else in Salem, looking forward to seeing Andrew Lewis and the Wolverines portrayed in the movie.”
Unfortunately, Lewis was never mentioned in the movie. A nondescript high school substituted for the Wolverines and the game was somewhat misrepresented. I was at the game and I remember outnumbered Lewis being heavy underdogs who gave a great effort against a powerhouse team. Instead, in the movie, it made the Titans out to be a team who pulled a big upset, and that just wasn’t the case. Still, if you didn’t know it was a good movie and that surely made the ending more exciting.
O’Connell saw it like everyone else from Salem and went about setting the record straight. He not only delves into that game, and that 1971 team, but takes it many steps farther, chronicling the entire Eddie Joyce era of football in Salem.
It was a huge undertaking. The last game Eddie Joyce coached in Salem was in 1974, 43 years ago. Joyce and the star quarterback of the team, his son Eddie, Jr., passed away prior to Mark’s idea to write the book so two of the main characters weren’t available for information.
However, Dale Foster is still alive and well and full of information from those Lewis years. Foster was an assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the Wolverines, having written his own book, “The Slanting Monster Defense in Football.” It was a Bible for many defensive coordinators of the time and coaches still use Foster’s concepts today.
Foster has a photographic memory of the Joyce era and O’Connell leaned heavily on Dale for the content. He would visit Foster at his Salem home and listen intently as Dale recounted games and events.
“He has a bad back and he really doesn’t get out much,” said O’Connell. “He would lie flat on his back and I would talk to him, and he has a terrific memory. This book wouldn’t be what it is without his influence and guidance.”
Mark also spent many hours with Billy Miles, Jr. and Charlie Hammersley. Miles was a standout player at Lewis under Joyce and went on to coach high school football in Salem and Franklin County, where he made his own mark as a great coach. Hammersley was a star runningback for Lewis who would serve the city as Director of Parks and Recreation for many years. Both Miles and Hammersley were up front and close to the Joyce era and beyond.
Mark contacted over 30 other players and coaches from the Wolverines, some face to face, some by telephone and others who submitted stories by e-mails. He also talked to people like Eddie Dean, the former coach at Madison County who was good friends with Joyce. He poured over old yearbooks with the help of Tony Wirt, the custodian of yearbooks from Andrew Lewis High, and met with Joni (Joyce) Bussey, Eddie’s daughter, to get further insight on the coach and the man.
“Most everyone I talked to was quite receptive,” he said, noting that only a couple former players failed to make themselves available, one being all-time Lewis great Russell Harris. “Many of them made scrapbooks available to me and they all had some great stories.”
O’Connell grew up in Salem and first became aware of the football team when his uncle, Galen Munsey, started taking him to Lewis games in 1964. Mark lived in West Salem and went to Glenvar High School through the ninth grade, then went to high school at Fork Union Military Academy, where he graduated in 1976.
Mark was a probation officer in Virginia for 25 years before retiring in 2015. He has two prior books to his credit, “Criminal Minds in Real Time,” where he leans on his experiences as a probation officer, and “Justice Denied,” a crime novel based on a real case.
He’s resides in Sommerset, VA in Orange County, just north of Charlottesville, and works as a free lance sports reporter and broadcaster for the local television station. He’s married and has three adult children.
Mark will be in Salem often this fall to promote the book. On November 6 he’ll be at the Salem Museum, beginning at 7:30 pm, for an author presentation and book signing. Soft cover volumes will be available for purchase at the time. Fittingly enough, November 6 is Dale Foster’s birthday.
On November 13 he’ll speak to the Roanoke Valley Sports Club at the Salem Civic Center, and on November 25, from 10 am to 2 pm, he’ll have a selling and signing event at the “Sports Haven” store, which opened up about a month ago next to Brooks-Byrd Pharmacy.
The book is now available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The hard cover books retail for $44.95 and the soft cover books are $32.95. Ebook versions will be available in about a month for $9.99 at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, ITunes and Google Play.
I have a copy here on my desk that Mark gave me last week and it’s tough to get work done, because I keep picking it up and reading a piece here and a piece there. It’s also filled with great pictures.
Like I said, it will make a great Christmas present for football fans, but you might not want to wait that long.
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