Sunday, January 22, 2012

Memories of JoePa

It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno this morning.

The debate continues about Paterno's role in the Penn State scandal allegedly perpetrated by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Questions regarding how much Paterno knew and whether he should have done more will undoubtedly cloud his legacy for a long time.

In my mind, however, the world has lost a great man.

How many football coaches alive today have donated their own money to upgrade a university library? How many of them have not taken a salary in over a decade, preferring instead to donate that money back to the university? How many can boast such a high graduation rate among their players?

Beyond all of that, it is the personal connections to Paterno I will remember the most. He was not just a figurehead, but an actual presence on that campus. It was not unusual to see him walking around the grounds on an ordinary day. I had the privilege of sitting next to him and his family at a mass on campus one Sunday.

My fondest memory will be the one summer when I was taking classes and staying in the dorms. During dinner in the dining hall, I was seated with a group of girls in a semi-circle around one of the tables. A male acquaintance walked by and said it looked like we were forming a panel to rate guys.

It suddenly occurred to us that this was a great idea. Someone donned pens and paper and we retired to the quad area outside the dining hall, faced the lawn chairs toward the hall entrance and proceeded to rate guys as they walked in and out on a scale of one to ten. We were nice for the most part--I don't remember anyone getting less than a seven.

We had been at this for about a half hour when who should walk by but Coach Paterno himself, heading into the dining hall to join his players. Someone shouted "Give that man a ten!" We all did, of course, along with a loud chorus of whistles and cheers. This earned us a smile and a wave from Paterno.

The world may remember the coach. The world may recall the scandal that unceremoniously ousted him from his job. I will choose to remember the man.

Coach, you will always be a "ten" in my eyes.

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