This past summer we spent a night at State College, PA on an overnight trek through Central Pennsylvania. The charming college town nestled in Happy Valley (the moniker given to the general region) seemed like a perfect place to rest our heels before heading out the next day to Punxsutawney (yes, to visit the groundhog). It also didn’t hurt that I got a room at the Hampton for $35 on Priceline.
Driving through that Saturday evening we saw Penn State’s mammoth Beaver Stadium perched on a hill – in a way overlooking the rest of the town, yet also quite removed from it, shielded by a barrier of trees. As SI’s Jack McCallum wrote today, the football complex is “a world-unto-itself isolation”. Looking back, just catching a glimpse of the place I could see how one would come to that conclusion. It is a rather otherworldly site – like a spaceship landing in the middle of a field. One might half-expect to hear the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to start blaring from the structure.
Unfortunately, these stadium walls were a witness to close encounters of a much more serious kind. By now I’m sure you all know of the horrible scandal that has shook Penn State, State College, the state of Pennsylvania, the sports world and the entire country. A former Football assistant, Jerry Sandusky, has been accused of molesting and initiating sexual behavior upon countless young boys (the final number has not been determined yet) for many years, many or all of which were found through Sandusky’s own charity, The Second Mile. The fallout has led to the abrupt retirement announcement (followed by the firing) of arguably the most legendary (and one of the most respected and trusted) coaches in all of sports, Joe Paterno.
I can only hope the victims, many of whom are young adults now, are finding some peace in this time as they move towards recovery. As far as my short, unimportant experience with State College is concerned, I hurt for the community. My visit there was a very pleasant one (even counting the rather boisterous, but friendly guy serving us a tasty last-second meal at Herwig’s Austrian Bistro right before it closed) and I grew fond of the place in the few hours I was there. It’s sad to see that the damage done by a select few has brought a great community down to its knees. However, I have no doubt that justice will be served and the good people of State College will persevere.