Wally Triplett, RIP

Wally Triplett died in Detroit earlier this month. He was 92 years old, and both an American and Penn State athletic hero:

Wally Triplett became the first African-American to start on the Penn State Nittany Lions, play in a bowl game, and be drafted by the NFL, where he set multiple records. He was a key inspiration for Penn State’s iconic “We Are” chant, which came to signify unity as Penn Staters in the face of racial segregation.

Kevin Horne wrote on “Wally Triplett and the Men of ‘47” earlier this year:

Triplett’s modesty is a tenant of his personality today, as it has been for virtually all of his 91 years on this earth. But those now-weathered eyes witnessed one of the most beautiful Penn State stories ever told—one in which he was the central figure, transcending the bounds of time and, even if not the literal inspiration, embodying the meaning behind the phrase “We Are Penn State.”

The story is told in two-parts. Triplett saw limited playing time in 1945—becoming, along with Dennie Hoggard, the first African-American to take the field for Penn State—and earned a varsity letter in 1946, also the first black player to do so for the Nittany Lions. Triplett made the switch from tailback to wingback early in the 1946 season and was the team’s most adept kick returner.

But Wally Triplett is defined more by the game he didn’t play than the ones that he did.

Triplett first felt trouble when he noticed that familiar name on the team schedule after he returned to campus in the fall of 1946. The University of Miami, the same school that revoked his scholarship less than two years prior because of the color of his skin, was scheduled for a home game against Penn State on November 29.

Not only did Miami not let black players on its team but, like many southern schools, did not even allow black players on its fields with visiting teams. Miami officials alerted Penn State that traveling with Triplett and Hoggard might prove problematic. The situation gnawed at Triplett — Penn State had a solid squad that year, with only one 3-point loss to Michigan State mid-way through the season and were poised to make a run at a postseason bowl.

Triplett has recounted what happened next hundreds of times. As the legend goes, the team met at Old Main to discuss the situation. They knew of Miami’s stance that bringing Triplett and Hoggard on the trip would make it, as their officials put it, “difficult for them to carry out arrangements for the game.”

The team discussed the situation and held a vote. It wasn’t close. A revote was held, however, so that the few holdouts could make it unanimous. “There was no second thought,” voter Joe Sarabok recalled to the Penn Stater.  Penn State would bring all of its players, or it would not play at all.

The dean of the School of Physical Education and Athletics, Dr. Carl Schott, relayed the team’s decision to the Daily Collegian in the November 6, 1946 newspaper:

“We recently advised the University of Miami that two colored boys are regular members of the Penn State football squad,” Scott said, “and that it is the policy of the College to compete only under circumstances which will permit the playing of any or all members of its athletic teams.”

There would be no game. It would not be rescheduled.

“I call it ‘that team’,’” Triplett recalled during a visit to the All Sports Museum in 2009. “The tradition of leaving your colored players at home was going to be tolerated no more.”

To add to the mythology, it is said that All-American captain Steve Suhey, the coach’s future son-in-law whose family line would produce generations of great Nittany Lions, stood up after the discussion and declared that the team would never have a vote of this sort again. It would never be spoken of; they already knew the answer. It was decided forever.

“We Are Penn State,” Suhey said. “We play all or we play none. There will be no meetings.”

Kevin relates Triplett’s story through Lincoln Hall in State College and a host of familiar, tangible landmarks that bind and unite Penn Staters:

Penn State student government leaders voted in 2016 to use the student facilities fee to erect a monument to Triplett near the location of Old Beaver Field, and though the project went in another direction once it reached the administrative level, it is a testament to the enduring appeal of his inspirational story that today’s students were willing to honor him in that way—nearly 70 years after Triplett and “The Men of ‘47” stood in their place.

But what compels such devotion? What is the Spirit of Penn State? Answers can be found through experiencing the ways in which the echoes of our shared past still reverberate through the places that we love. It is revering Mount Nittany. It is tipping your cap to Old Willow and admiring the remaining Elms on the Henderson Mall. It is celebrating the unique vision and singular determination of people like Evan Pugh, George Atherton, and Joe Paterno. And it is remembering places that never should have needed to exist at all, like Lincoln Hall, and the quiet dignity of the pioneers who lived there. It is learning and cherishing – and thereby keeping alive – the story of noble Lions like Wally Triplett, Steve Suhey, and a band of teammates who were ahead of their time.

The Spirit is still there if you want to experience it. Try it. Walk down North Barnard Street and stop in front of the second house on the right. Close your eyes. If you try hard enough, it’s not difficult to imagine Wally Triplett, the African-American son of a Pennsylvania postal worker, his smile reaching ear to ear, bounding down the wood-covered concrete steps of Lincoln Hall, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, on his way to catch the team bus to the Cotton Bowl, ready to change the course of history.

I hope Penn State administration comes to its senses and commissions a lasting stuatuary monument to Wally Triplett someplace near Beaver Stadium. Wally Triplett, rest in peace.

Penn State Homes Sales

This mid-20th century “Penn State Homes Sales” office has sat on North Atherton Street, just a few minutes from Downtown State College, for decades. I wondered about it when first arriving at Penn State in 2005. In driving by it when leaving State College on Monday I noticed lots of equipment surrounding it, and thought this might be one of the last times I see it if it’s scheduled for demolition. I hopped out of my rental car and took this photo:

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I emailed a friend who grew up in the area to ask about it, and here’s what he wrote:

Yes, it was the rental/sales office for what was the mobile home park that existed back there up until the mid 2000s or so. I have a vague memory of visiting my aunt who lived there for a year sometime in the mid 80s… Although it was run down toward the end of its life it was actually pretty decent in the prime of days. There also wasn’t a ton of non-student housing available in the State College area back then either (believe it or not considering the expansion of housing options today).

And here’s a bit from Matt Carroll in the Centre Daily Times a few years ago on what looks like a park that was adjacent to this one:

The last of the North Atherton Street mobile home parks is closing.

Franklin Manor Mobile Home Park is shutting down, according to a letter sent Friday to residents and Patton Township officials. The 22 families that live in the park were informed that they have until Oct. 1 to find new homes.

The park is next to the former Penn State Mobile Home Park, which closed July 31.

Natalie Corman, Centre County Office of Adult Services director, was informed Friday that the mobile home park is closing, and she said officials already are organizing assistance for residents.

Owner Ed Temple, when reached Friday, said the condition of the park’s infrastructure is failing, as are many of its trailers, and that ultimately led to the decision to close.

“This winter was a tipping point,” Temple said. “So many people had failures, frozen-up water lines broke. It just became evident they were just not functional anymore.”

He said closing the park is a “difficult decision.” It was established by his father in 1953, and Temple grew up there.

“It’s been a situation where I had generations of people there — parents and now their children,” he said. “We’ve tried to facilitate it. It’s just come to the point where we have to do something.”

Temple said the park was not being closed to make way for development, but did not rule that out as a possibility in the future.

I hope this little office survives and is repurposed into something more publicly useful someday. It’s such an aesthetically distinct park of North Atherton Street, compared to the derivative shopping centers and hotels that line both sides the whole way north.

Labor Day in State College

Happy Labor Day. I’m in State College, Pennsylvania this morning and enjoying this beautiful late summer day on my friend’s South Allen Street front porch. A view from that porch below, from last week when I was in town, along with some scenes from Downtown State College and Penn State’s campus from yesterday. Penn State has its flags at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

College football season has started, and autumn will be here in earnest before long. Looking forward to what the next few months have in store.

Appalachian State

Incredible season opener today for Penn State. I got into Happy Valley just after 1pm, visited with Ben Novak and Hollow briefly before Ubering to Beaver Stadium and tailgating for a few hours. Once the game started, met up with Anthony Christina and headed back to Park Forest Village where we watched the game. Closer than comfortable for most of the game, and ultimately driven into overtime before Penn State’s lucky, somewhat incredible victory.

Here’s Joan Niesen telling the story of this game:

For the second time in three years, Appalachian State pushed a top-10 Week 1 opponent to overtime—and lost.

It took a late-game touchdown by Trace McSorley and an Amani Oruwariye pick in the end zone in overtime, but Penn State got its win, 45–38. It was, coach James Franklin said in his postgame Big Ten Network interview, “an ugly one, tough one,” but as night fell in Pennsylvania, the Nittany Lions hung on to their College Football Playoff hopes.

Going into Saturday, Penn State was a popular pick to make college football’s final four, despite playing in a contender-laden Big Ten East. By halftime, the conference’s other favorites had logged wins; Wisconsin defeated Western Kentucky, 34–3, on Friday night, and Ohio State charged to a 77–31 win over Oregon State—without its coach, Urban Meyer, who is suspended from in-game coaching for two more weeks. Meanwhile, Penn State was tied at 10 with a Sun Belt team playing a first-year starter at quarterback. …

It looked possible, probable even, that the Mountaineers would get their first major upset as an FBS team, 11 years to the day after they spoiled Michigan’s home opener from the ranks of the FCS.

In the end, though, the game came down to two plays: McSorley’s 15-yard, game-tying touchdown pass to K.J. Hamler with 42 seconds remaining in regulation (a perfectly respectable throw against a Group of Five defense replacing its own accomplished coordinator, which Matt Millen in the Big Ten Network booth described a “Heisman play”), and App State coach Scott Satterfield’s choice to attempt a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-four with 15 seconds to go. That decision to try to pull off a long kick rather than eke out four yards would haunt Appalachian State; the field goal was no good, and in overtime, reality took hold. McSorley and company were able to march down the field, and when Appalachian State got its turn, it barely nudged its way to a first down before Thomas threw the end-zone interception that decided the game. …

Penn State looks like it has ground to gain if it wants to live up to its lofty expectations. The win kept them—and McSorley’s Heisman chances—alive, but with Pitt in primetime next week and Ohio State on September 29, things won’t get any easier from here.

Visiting Happy Valley in late summer

Here are scenes from past few days of travel; first in leaving Philadelphia and driving past the Art Museum where they were setting up for Labor Day’s “Made in America” concert, and the rest from State College and Penn State on Monday night and throughout Tuesday. I worked from the Creamery Tuesday morning before heading downtown and eventually to HIST 197, and it was a great sort of “living nostalgia” getting to enjoy a coffee, catch up on the news, clear my inbox, and just be amidst the fairy subdued early morning bustle of the early fall semester.

After all of this, I headed out of town around 9pm headed toward Cincinnati but decided to stop in Steubenville, Ohio around 1am.

Visiting HIST 197 again

I sat in this morning on Prof. Michael Milligan’s HIST 197 “History of Penn State” course. Like I did this time last year, I wanted to get a sense for the sort of Penn Staters attracted to the course. This fall the course it taking place in 225 Electrical Engineering West, which sits between Willard Building (where it was last fall) and the Hintz Family Alumni Center. It’s held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:35-11:50am.

It was more than five years ago that I remember speaking with a number of alumni from different generations in a short space of time who all had a similar vision for a Penn State course on Penn State history. It would be a way for students of any major to learn about Penn State itself, from its earliest moments through its most difficult periods to the present. Prof. Milligan ultimately made this happen through his development of the semester-long curriculum.

Today’s lesson brought students through some of Evan Pugh’s early writings on the nascent Penn State and the vision for something more than merely another agricultural college, the generation-long struggle through much of the remainder of the 19th century as the institution was led by superintendent-style presidents, and ended just on the cusp of President Atherton’s emergence on the scene.

The LION 90.7fm in late summer

I drove to Penn State late this afternoon, getting into town just after 7pm and just in time to sit in with The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station, for its first staff meeting of the academic year. Ross Michael is the station’s president and general manager this year, and Russ Rockwell continues to serve as adviser and engineer.

While I’ve advocated for and continue to fundraise for a scholarship for The LION 90.7fm, this was the first staff meeting I’ve sat in on in nearly a decade. Great to see so many people from so many backgrounds in life and in terms of academic and professional interests together at the station. That seems to be a constant.

I’ve written before that I think the primary benefit of campus radio at this point is its role as a platform for learning how to think and speak in public; basically how to intelligently participate in the public square in a way that enlivens the community and ennobles the speaker. We’re often disgusted with social media because it doesn’t seem to ennoble us, to bring out the best in us. Platforms like campus radio still can, because they force one to really come to grips with what’s about to come out of one’s mouth when there’s a live mic. And whether you’re sharing great or unusual music, talking Penn State football, or public affairs, your voice can in some meaningful way speak either a better or worse reality into existence—even if just for a few thousand listeners. Striving to do that is part of being human in the fullest sense, and doing it out of a genuine love and enthusiasm rather than as simply on obligation is what can make community life better too, which is part of what citizenship is about.

Phil Schwarz, a friend for many years and former host of The Wake Up Call (the station’s morning show) for three years during our time as students is back at Penn State as of this month to complete an MBA program. It was Phil’s first time seeing the station’s new facilities since moving in 2015 into a newer part of the HUB-Robeson Center.

The fall semester is underway as of last week, and tomorrow morning I plan to sit in on Prof. Michael Milligan’s HIST 197 “History of Penn State” course.

NY1 and truly local news

A year or so ago I subscribed to the New York Times’s “New York Today” and “California Today” weekday email newsletters. I like scanning these each morning and being able to quickly get a sense of what’s happening in New York City, especially. On Tuesday, there was New York/California overlap with this news:

NY1, which is also owned by Charter, is adored by a slice of New Yorkers who are charmed by its homespun feel and its roster of longtime anchors and correspondents … [its] laser focus on New York-only stories, especially in politics, often pays off. NY1 was the only news station that had a camera at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign event to chronicle her Democratic congressional primary upset in June.

Whether the 24-hour Los Angeles network [set to launch] becomes as popular as NY1 remains to be seen. Los Angeles is not exactly hurting for local television coverage, but Spectrum insists it is carving out a different space …

Mr. Bair said that 125 people would be hired for the newsroom and that they were already more than halfway through staffing up the network. The new channel — he would not reveal its name — will be headquartered in El Segundo, near the Los Angeles International Airport and The Los Angeles Times’s new headquarters.

Spectrum has several local news stations around the country, including in Florida (Orlando and Tampa) and Texas (San Antonio and Austin). Mr. Bair said that the local news stations are very popular and “create a higher level of retention” for the cable service. …

“We don’t have to worry about two-minute sound bites,” Mr. Bair said. “If an interview takes three or four minutes, we stick with it. We’re more likely to cover much smaller stories, neighborhood-based stories than you’d see in other markets.”

Mr. Kiernan, the longtime NY1 anchor, said New Yorkers who have moved to Los Angeles constantly ask why there isn’t a version of the station in the city.

“They’ll do stories about the 405 with the same intensity that we do stories about the 6 train,” he said of the new Los Angeles channel. “But a lot of the hallmarks of NY1 reporting will be key parts of their reporting: politics, education, jobs. Those are stories that often get squeezed out of local newscasts by an endless rundown of crime reporting.”

What’s presented for news almost everywhere now is national news. Not even the international news in America tends to really be international; it’s only interested in how America is impacting or being impacted internationally and not actually interested in pure reporting of just what the hell is going on in other places.

As for national news, whether on traditional news channels, the cable networks, or across Facebook, Twitter, etc., we’re all exhausted by it. And that’s largely the fault of the media itself, which has forgotten how to cover news without simultaneously sensationalizing and debasing most of what it presents.

What NY1 and Spectrum are doing make perfect sense. It reminds me of advice I got at Penn State when I was involved with The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station. A few alums, some of whom worked in news and sports media, warned us not to focus on national issues on the public affairs/politics program, and not to talk exclusively or even primarily about national sports on the sports program, and not to play very much from the Billboard 100 on the music shows, etc.

“Why,” many us of asked somewhat incredulously?

“You’d be derivative and irrelevant,” was basically the response.

“No one wants to hear what a bunch of 19 or 20 year olds who just got out of comp sci class think about the Yankees. But a lot of people—especially a lot of community and alumni listeners who are the likeliest to be tuning inwant to hear what a 20 year old Penn Stater thinks about Penn State football, basketball etc. National reporters and national Top 40 stations are already covering national content better than any amateur student could, but a Penn State student can be a professional covering the local community better than anyone from the outside. To be relevant, don’t go national; go local.” That thinking has stuck.

That’s basically why truly local news used to be great, before all the local papers and stations were scooped up by national chains and become derivative from national syndicated reporting. And it’s why NY1 and things like it should and will win in their niches—because no one cares more than they do about covering the stories of their community well, day in and day out.

Penn State history course fills up again

I wrote last year about Penn State’s “HIST 197- History of Penn State” course that debuted for the Fall 2017 semester. Penn State News featured the course’s creation at that time:

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

It was popular in its first offering, and is now being offered as an elective for undergraduates of any major for the second time, during the fast-approaching Fall 2018 semester.

We were fortunate to play a role in encouraging the development of this course at the Nittany Valley Society over many years. It’s so encouraging to see it pick up steam. Unlike last year the course benefited from no promotional activity, yet is again at capacity with a full roster of 49 students registered for the start of classes on Tuesday, August 21st:

Last year it took place in 62 Willard and this year it moves to 225 Electrical Engineering West, fittingly even closer to Evan Pugh’s old home in the heart of campus. And just as last year, Prof. Milligan will be welcoming occasional trustees, alumni, and visitors to sit-in on the class. I’m planning to sit in again like I did last year at some point in the next few weeks.

Tomorrow you may not die

I ordered a copy of The Collegian Chronicles years ago and was recently flipping through it. It’s a sort of history of Penn State from 1887 to 2006 through the pages of The Daily Collegian, the campus newspaper. Its dedication honors Ross Lehman, Class of 1941:

Ross B. Lehman, executive director emeritus alumni association in Office of Student Affairs, from Feb. 1, 1948, until his retirement April 1, 1983; died Dec. 12, 2003 at the age of 85.

Ross was one of the pillars of the State College/Penn State communities. He and his wife wrote a widely read Centre Daily Times column called “Open House” for decades, and like Joe and Sue Paterno he and his wife embodied some of the best aspects of the Penn State ethos. Skull and Bones at Penn State endowed an award in his honor:

It is given annually to a freshman who exemplifies the ideals of Skull and Bones: unselfish service and leadership to the Penn State University community, and the elimination of false pride, excessive self-esteem and grand ideas of personal glory.

A leadership award honoring virtues opposed to false pride, grand ideas of personal glory, etc. is somewhat distinctive now, isn’t it? Who talks like that any longer?

The Collegian Chronicles is dedicated to Ross Lehman, and this bit stands out:

While in captivity in a German prison hospital, Ross recalled awakening one morning to see “the most beautiful, indescribable patch of blue” sky. It was his moment of revelation. “I said to myself at that moment, ‘Each minute of life is an eternity, and it’s how that minute is lived, how acutely one perceives it and absorbs it within his being, that determines how much a man becomes a sun: he generates or he explodes.”

Ross once advised: “Live nobly while you live. Tomorrow you may not die.”

Tomorrow you may not die. A hard phrase, like a needle in the eye of the “live like each day is your last” sentimentalism that justifies doing basically whatever.

I guess I’ll throw my chips in with the Ross Lehmans of the world, and try to be friends with those who do.