The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 15, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU to honor miners

MORGANTOWN — Zach Harrah’s birthday is Friday.

It should be a happy day, but it’s going to be hard to celebrate this 7th birthday.

“He doesn’t have a Daddy to go home to tonight,” Bill Stewart said.

Steven Harrah was one of 29 coal miners who died on April 5 in the Raleigh County mine explosion.

That was why on Wednesday, before Stewart coached his Mountaineers through a spring workout at Mountaineer Field, he gathered his players and had them sign a West Virginia football jersey for Zach Harrah.

It’s why across the state on the very same day there was a campaign to send the mourning child birthday cards, a campaign to bring some cheer in a life that will go one with a huge void that no child should have to endure.

Shortly after Stewart’s players signed the jersey, the coach announced that the Mountaineers would wear a helmet in the Blue-Gold spring game with a decal to honor the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The decal will be a white circle with a black No. 29 in the middle of the circle. It will be worn in the spring game and throughout the season.

“We will wear that proudly in honor of those men,” Stewart said after his practice. “We dedicate the season to the miners.”

The disaster, of course, hit the entire state hard, casting a dark cloud of grief from Wheeling to Princeton, from Charleston to Kaiser and from Parkersburg to Hedgesville.

And it was felt deeply by Stewart, who nearly 40 years ago lost an uncle in a coal mining accident.

Millard D. Williams, whom everyone called Buss, had married into the family, marrying Stewart’s aunt, whose name was Thelma.

They lived in Tunnelton and ran a farm. Then one day, when out doing the chores, Buss Williams came across a vein of coal running through his land. At first he and his wife mined it, pulling out enough for the heat that got them through the winters.

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