THE FIRST GAME that Michael Horrocks started at quarterback for West Chester was Sept. 10, 1983. It was at Delaware. The Blue Hens were expected to win big. West Chester won, 35-27.
His teammates never forgot how cool the quarterback was that day and every day. After they all graduated from West Chester and went their separate ways, the teammates got on with their lives. Some stayed local, became lawyers or went into business. Others chose a different path.
Horrocks went into the Marines. Became a first lieutenant on the way to captain. Went to flight school and flew in a squadron of KC-130 tankers. After he left the service, Horrocks became a pilot for United Airlines.
Then, living in Glen Mills, Horrocks was the first officer on United Airlines Flight 175 (Boston to Los Angeles), on Sept. 11, 2001. Victor Saracini, of Yardley, was the pilot.
Like everybody else, Horrocks' teammates were stunned that morning and for several weeks. They did not place the name and the flight together at once.
"The whole country was in shock," said John Mininno, a West Chester linebacker who played with Horrocks. "You look at the manifest with the names. I had friends who had worked in the city. But then it registered about two weeks later.
"I was just shocked. You never connect the dots as to how somebody you know could end up being involved in the tragedy. Then, you realize, 'Yeah, Mike went to flight school and that makes sense that he could have been and was one of the pilots.' "
Flight 175, taken over by hijackers, was the second plane to hit the World Trade Center that morning. The crash into the South Tower was seen live on television at 9:03 a.m.
After realizing that their teammate was a co-pilot on that flight, and taking some time to digest it, Mininno and several of his teammates decided that a lasting memorial to their friend would be fitting.
"A bunch of years had gone by and some of the teammates said, 'We never really did anything for Mike, there's no permanent memorial for him at the school, nothing for us to physically touch,' " said Mininno, now an attorney in Collingswood, N.J. "And we wanted to create a scholarship in his honor."
So, on Sept. 12, 2008, many of his former teammates met at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown to raise money for a monument and a perpetual football scholarship in Mike's name. They raised $35,000 that day. They plan on raising a whole lot more at a banquet/fundraiser this evening at Penn Oaks Golf Club, in West Chester.
It is Sept. 11, 2009, exactly 8 years later. On Sept. 11, 2010, the teammates expect to be at West Chester's Farrell Stadium, where a life-size bronze statue of Mike Horrocks will be unveiled.
"We hope to have some iron from the World Trade Center to give it that little touch," Mininno said. "It's going to be something that will be there forever for our families and for future generations to say, 'Hey, look, on this field, somebody played who was part of that day and we want to honor him.' "
They all had "grieved individually," Mininno said. But they hadn't, until a few years ago, "come together and said, 'Hey, this is a guy we knew and loved, and we need to do something for him.' "
So they did.
"We're probably over 50 percent of our goal at this point in terms of raising the money that's involved in that," West Chester athletic director Ed Matejkovic said. "We probably need this year. We'll know a lot more after [tonight]."
Horrocks, a Hershey High graduate, played at West Chester from 1981 to '84. He was a terrific quarterback who went on to serve his country and then was able to do what he loved, flying airplanes. He was inducted into West Chester's Killinger Foundation Football Hall of Fame in April 2009.
"Mike was a cool customer back then," said Mininno, thinking back to that game against Delaware. "It was his first start and you wouldn't know it. He marched us up and down the field."
Mike left wife Miriam and children Michael and Christa. Mike and Miriam were good friends with Mike's former teammate Paul Isenberg and his wife. They often went out socially and had been friends for years. In 2003, Isenberg lost his wife to cancer.
Miriam and Paul's support for each other grew eventually into love and they married. They were at last year's outing at the Marriott and they will be at tonight's benefit as well.