The ease with which Alice Hoagland speaks about her son is not merely admirable but extraordinary.
Almost 10 years removed from the day that saw her son rise as an American hero, the mother of Mark Bingham — the former Cal rugby player who helped bring down the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 — speaks vigorously and vividly about life with and without her son.
Alice Hoagland wants to talk because the tragic results produced the advancement of movements that her only son — her only child — advocated. Alice Hoagland wants to talk because 10 years, though a necessary reminder to the public, remains a number, while the loss of a son cannot be measured.
But why does Alice Hoagland really want to speak up?
“9/11 may have drifted into some people’s distant memories but it is right there for me all the time,” Hoagland says. “My life now is about the unfinished business of 9/11.”
Alice Hoagland wants to be heard because complacency is not an option. An engaging conversationalist and a motivating voice, she will stop at nothing to commemorate her son. That means not merely championing Mark’s causes, but also confronting the issues that took his life.
Mark Bingham was a reserve on the 1991 Cal rugby National Championship squad and graduated from Berkeley in 1993. Bingham and three other former athletes — Jeremy Glick (a national collegiate judo champion), Todd Beamer (a former college shortstop and three-sport high school athlete from Bingham’s high school, Los Gatos) and Tom Burnett (a star high school quarterback) — stormed the cockpit of Flight 93, initially headed from Newark to San Francisco, and helped crash the plane before it reached the hijackers’ intended target of the U.S. Capitol Building. The plane crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania killing all 44 on board but none on the ground.
We may not dream of such a scenario, but heroes are those that act decisively and forcefully. By entering the cockpit and disabling armed terrorists intent on destruction, Bingham, Glick, Burnett and Beamer saved lives and acted not solely as human beings, but also as athletes.
“I think what athletes do is instinctively take into account what’s happening and what’s real and what needs to be done. It’s part of the DNA of being a real athlete,” Cal rugby coach Jack Clark says. “Once an athlete gets that bit of data that these things are ending bad, you act. It’s an informed decision at that point. You don’t sit there and hope for the best or pretend that the information isn’t real. It’s real and it’s actionable. You take action and that is what athletes are taught to do.”
For Mark Bingham, it was rugby that helped instill those reflexes.
“I saw what wonderful things rugby did for Mark and by extension what wonderful things competitive sports and athletic skill that was aboard Flight 93 did for America,” Hoagland says. “Those skills that those guys learned showed. They demonstrated themselves on the back of that doomed 757. They realized how dire and desperate the situation was. They came up with a desperate plan to overthrow a plot two years in the making.”
Hoagland will discuss the event — it is difficult to avoid with the anniversary nearing — but it remains “fresh bad news” for her every time it resurfaces. It’s the loss of a son after all. Tragedy motivates, but Alice merely continued what she was doing before — loving her son.
And the love is all-encompassing, one of reconciliation, equality and peace.
“Every peace-loving person owes it to his fellow human being to speak out on behalf of the human race to remember that we are all a part of the human family.” Hoagland says. “We are knit up together. Mark’s family is related several generations to the Moorish lines that populated Europe. Whether we like it or not we are all intertwined genetically.”
As a former United Airlines flight attendant, Hoagland frankly discusses her beliefs in strengthening aviation security and eradicating terrorism. The mother of a gay son, Alice is passionate in her desire for mainstream America to fully accept LGBT individuals. When discussing her life since 9/11, Mark’s mother is sincere. But when talking rugby, Alice’s tone is markedly upbeat.
Bingham received all sorts of posthumous awards which created opportunities for others. Prior to his death, Mark was a pioneer of the San Francisco Fog, a multi-ethnic, non-discriminate team whose creation parlayed into the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB).
Just a few weeks before September 11, the Fog was accepted into the Northern Calfornia Rugby Union, an accreditation Mark helped achieve.
People reached out generously after the attacks. In 2002, the first-ever Bingham Cup was hosted by the Fog in San Francisco. Now, the Cup is a biennial international gay rugby union tournament that has also been hosted in London, New York, Dublin and Minneapolis. The 2012 Bingham Cup will be played in Manchester, which narrowly outbid Sydney.
When the first Bingham Cup was played, IGRAB had six teams. Nine years later, it has over 40.
“I am so proud that these great guys, these energetic, powerful and idealistic rugby players are carrying on Mark’s tradition,” she says. “That’s the wonderful thing about rugby. The players go at each other so fierce and are so competitive and fight so hard on the field, but after the game everybody goes to get a pint.”
So where does it stand 10 years removed? Alice’s son has been honored, but the prospect of the public losing touch worries her.
“We have a lot of unfinished business,” she says. “I’m going to be all about that until the day I die.”
The task is never too daunting and the memory is never too distant.
So yes, Alice Hoagland wants to talk. She talks because she is paying the tribute that she feels her son deserves.
It is important to note that another former Cal athlete, Brent Woodall, who played football from 1988-91 and baseball from 1992-93, was also killed in the attacks in New York City. Woodall’s widow, Tracy Pierce Bender, started The Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children located in Irving, Texas. The foundation, started in 2003, works with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental delays. Pierce Bender did not wish to be interviewed for this feature.