As season begins, little fuss over camp's new name at Penn State
Penn State University freshmen Evan Bittner, right, from York, Pa., and Mary Rouleau, from Clifton, Va., study in front of their tent Friday outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. Residents of Nittanyville, the student tent village formerly called Paternoville, lined up this week outside the stadium's Gate A as the Nittany Lions football team prepared to open its season at home today against Ohio University.
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was Thursday night, a few minutes before 9, and Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin stood on the pavement outside Beaver Stadium, flanked by teammates Matt Stankiewitch and Eric Shrive.
The trio looked on as a group of their peers -- about 240, to be exact -- huddled in a circle and began to jump up and down. "We love you, we love you," the group chanted as they banged on trash cans, flailed their arms in the air and twirled in circles. "And that is why we follow. Cause we support the Lions, and that's the way we like it."
Mr. McGloin smiled slightly. In many ways, it felt like any other year. This tradition has been going on for a long time. But this year, like many things surrounding Penn State football, there is a slight change. The group is student-run organization that camps outside Beaver Stadium the week before football games. They plop up tents, do homework, play games and wait. They want the best seats in the first-come, first-served student section and they want to support the team.
It had been known as "Paternoville" since 2006. When Penn State opens the 2012 season against Ohio University today, it will be "Nittanyville" instead. The announcement came in July, six days before former coach Joe Paterno's statue outside Beaver Stadium was removed.
"What it pretty much comes down to is we were involved in something we didn't want to be involved in," Nittanyville president Troy Weller said at a preseason meeting Tuesday. "We're here to support the football team. We can't do that if there are these outside distractions."
That began in November, when Paterno was fired after the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal became public. At the next home game, a Nov. 12 meeting with Nebraska, more than 700 students camped outside Gate A. Dozens of news crews and reporters decided to come, too.
"Having to kick 'NBC Nightly News' out of your spot because they were using our computer outlets -- which we usually use to do homework with -- for their equipment? That was a problem," said senior Jeff Lowe, Nittanyville's vice president.
Since November, hundreds of messages have flooded the group's Facebook, Twitter and email accounts. Some fans found Mr. Lowe's personal accounts, where he received the most extreme feedback.
One man asked him in an email: Because you support Paterno and child abuse, do you also support anthrax, terrorism and arson?
Another sender claimed that he would "burn down the tents and bulldoze them over until the land was flat."
"It's pretty ironic because the pavement outside Beaver Stadium where we camp is flat already," Mr. Lowe said. "Based off the spelling errors in most of the emails, it seemed like most of the people were drunk. Or just totally caught up in the moment."
Regardless, Mr. Weller, Mr. Lowe and their fellow officers felt they needed to make a change. The process, faculty adviser Mike Poorman explained to the students at Tuesday's meeting, included a one-week period where Mr. Weller and Mr. Lowe were spending five to six hours a day in discussions.
Mr. Poorman, who taught the university's Joe Paterno & The Media course, which is on hiatus this semester, facilitated the talks, but it was mostly up to the students.
They consulted with acting athletic director Dave Joyner, who stood behind them. They then called former assistant coach Jay Paterno, Joe Paterno's son, to let him know that the officers were going to take a vote.
The name "O'Brienville" surfaced as an option, but did not receive much traction.
"Alumni wanted us to do something to support Joe, then people outside the university wanted us to shut down altogether," Mr. Lowe said. "We needed something neutral to get the focus back to just football."
The decision sparked another flood of messages, though the students were mostly interested in what their peers thought. Their reviews were mostly supportive.
In July, Mr. Lowe appeared on a radio show for a CBS affiliate in Chicago with host Dan Bernstein, who applauded the students for "being heroes."
Mr. Lowe didn't like that.
"I said, 'Look, that's not the point of this,' " he said. "The point was to focus on the goals of our organization. We wanted to give back to child abuse organizations, and if we were going to do that we were going to need to remove Paterno's name."
Nittanyville will sell merchandise at the student bookstore and at Beaver Stadium this season.
Half of the proceeds will go to the Center for the Protection of Children at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.
The normal traditions -- games of trash can football, designing banners to hold at the stadium and receiving visits from players the night before the game -- will remain.
So far this season, campers have also received visits from several players including Donovan Smith, Bill Belton, Adrian Amos, Shane McGregor and Gary Gilliam.
"These kids have classes, they could be doing other things," Mr. Gilliam said. "But they camp out there just to watch us play. It just shows they're confident in what we're doing. It means a lot."
At the end of Tuesday's meeting, which lasted 49 minutes, Mr. Weller asked the group members if they had any questions.
A female student asked if cowbells would be allowed in the stadium. A male student asked a question clarifying the sign-up process.
There were no questions about the name change. Everyone appeared to be on board.
First Published September 1, 2012 12:00 am