Football therapeutic to local PSU fans

By on November 16, 2011

By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor truth.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer

Saturday was anything but normal for local football fans who ventured to State College for the Big 10 showdown between Penn State and Nebraska.

Yet, after the scandal at Penn State that rocked both the university and the country last week and cost several notables their jobs, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, the game itself was therapeutic in a sense for those 106,000 people who made it into Beaver Stadium for the big game.

Cocalico football coaches Dave Gingrich, Matt Gingrich and Bryan Strohl, along with fellow Eagle supporter Jim Kidwell, were among those who made the trek to Happy Valley. Armed with sideline passes, the foursome took in the surreal scene and talked about their experiences with The Review.

According to Kidwell, who grew up in the State College area, the pre-game festivities which included the entire Penn State team walking out arm-in-arm as well as a prayer at the center of the field involving both teams, the deafening silence stood out in the stadium.

"The stadium filled slowly, but was completely full by kickoff which was unusual," he said. "The crowd went from very loud with the pre-game Blue Band entrance to even louder when the players entered, walking hand-in-hand without their leader at the front. When both teams cleared their sidelines and headed to the center of the field and promptly greeted their foes with hugs, high fives, and talk, I don’t think the crowd knew what to do. It was very quiet. When both teams then made a large mass in the middle and knelt to the ground for a pre-game prayer for the victims, you could have heard a pin drop in the stadium. (It was ) total silence."

Strohl admitted it was tough to control his emotions prior to the game.

" It was definitely an emotional roller coaster in the beginning," he said. "There was the excitement and roar of the crowd at the beginning when the team came onto the field, followed by a quick change to quite solemness when the teams met at the middle of the field. Once the game started, the game seemed to pretty much go on as normal."

Dave Gingrich agreed that once the game began, it seemed to take on the semblance of a normal PSU home game.

"I thought the atmosphere was typical in that there was excitement for the game, but also more conservative," he said. "The fans were not as crazy due to the circumstances."

Strohl added, "I think everyone just wasn’t sure how things would go, but overall it was similar to trips in the past. There were some chants and signs, but it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it would be. I think the student body got their emotions and feelings out during the week before the game."

While the game didn’t turn out quite as the home folks had hoped–Nebraska withstood a late Penn State charge to win 17-14–the end result seemed secondary to many according to Matt Gingrich.

"It seemed like a lot of people weren’t taking the game for granted; they seemed grateful to be there and have a game and team to root for," he said. "I was happy to see how it came down to the end, and afterward you didn’t hear anyone upset about who won or loss. People were happy that PSU fought hard and came back. It was nice to hear that was focus of the fans."

"The one thing that stuck out to me was that this was a perfect team to play in this situation," he continued. "Nebraska was a class act, and their fans were amazing. There are so many things that could have happened but nothing did. They came in and helped in the healing process. I have seen Nebraska play three times in my life and they always are the same: they cheer hard for their team, cheer loud for their team, and never put down the other team. Saturday was a great demonstration in sportsmanship and how to act as fans."

All four agreed that playing the game was indeed the right decision, and each and everyone of them were glad they made the trip.

"I think a lot of healing went on during that day," Matt Gingrich said. "It was almost a group therapy session….for everyone involved. I think a lot of people started to come to terms with what happened, but also started to look ahead at their and the school’s future.

Strohl added, "It was definitely the right decision," he said. "At times like that, I think you need to keep things as normal as possible, and it provided a bit of a distraction from the mess that was created. Also, it was the right thing to do for the seniors who gave so much to the program and had nothing to do with the scandal.

Dave Gingrich agreed.

"The young men involved in the game had nothing to do with the (scandal)," he said. "They deserved the opportunity to play. I also feel that the game helped in the healing process. Up to that point, the feelings toward the university and some of their leaders were very negative. This game experience was very classy; fans, players, and coaches conducted themselves very well."

Kidwell said the game was a great diversion from everything that is going on.

""I think it was the perfect thing to do," he said. "It got the focus off of the issues and back on something else. There is still much to dig into about the case, and people sitting around thinking about it would not be a positive thing. Life needs to move on and let those who need to handle and resolve it do their jobs. Canceling would have just put undue pressure on the victims and families of the victims as well. They need all of the support systems that they can get, and life has to continue in some type of normalcy so that can happen."

He added, "It was very clear that the PSU fans were making a statement in support of PSU. This was one man who caused all of this turmoil, and the crowd was there to say, ‘this was not PSU that did this!" More PSU, page B-4

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