Penn State journalism students found stories this fall beyond the games themselves.
Law & Order
~ by Korinn Harris
When a 100,000 football fans descend on University Park, public safety is a top priority. Dozens of police officers work with Penn State’s police force on game days. Some are responsible for keeping cars between the cones. Others are patrolling the tailgates and campus to make sure fans are obeying the laws.
This story follows Officer Adam Rawding, a 12 year veteran of Penn State football games, and his colleagues, as they work on Penn State football game days.
The Penn State police force strives for standards of safety and communication on game days. On all game days they achieve two of the three objectives. From keeping the traffic flowing, to parking lot directions and disputes between intoxicated couples, the tasks are treated with priority, and sometimes a little laughter.
Reuse, Recycle, and Repeat
~ by Jordan Pietrafitta
Any time more than 100,000 football fans gather, there will always be some trash left behind.
At sunrise on the day after each home football game at Beaver Stadium, the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP) sends out Penn State employees to clean-up the parking lots and fields.
OPP employees collect blue recycling bags filled with bottles and cans, and transport them to the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority (CCRRA) where workers sort through and separate the football game recyclables.
And the Emmy goes to …
~ by Hannah Mears
What could an Emmy Award, a lucky shot and a family of five all have in common? The answer, a Penn State tailgate.
Gary Golaszewski has been tailgating at Penn State football games since the 1990s.
This is how much it means to him: Golaszewski eventually made the decision to move his wife, Ame, and their three kids from Philadelphia to State College to be closer to the gameday experience.
Since the move, the tailgate has only grown bigger and better. The three-space pregame event is located just behind Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, Penn State’s baseball field, with a giant white tent, a 20-foot flag and quite the display of food. But what makes the Golaszewski tailgate so special is the star power it attracts.
Shannon Furman, a Penn State alumna and award-winning producer and director for NFL Films, has been making appearances at Golaszewski tailgate since the early 2000s. She even donated one of her many Emmys to the tailgate as a prop so fans can take photos with it on gameday.
“We are constantly looking for ways to enhance the fan experience,” Golaszewski said without a trace of irony.
Furman has also brought some former Penn State football greats by the tailgate to check out the scene.
“Shannon always tends to bring the star power to the tailgates,” Golaszewski said. “One time she brought former Penn State football player Michael Robinson (now an NFL Network analyst) which was very cool.”
Furman loves everything about the tailgate, calling it, “the greatest tailgate on earth.”
The tradition of the toast before kickoff has to be her favorite part.
“It is something everyone looks forward to every week, they just expect it at this point,” she said.
The toast originated as the “Sam Ficken Shot,” named for former Penn State kicker, Sam Ficken, now with the New York Jets, who was struggling to make field goal attempts at the time in 2012.
“When we started passing out these shots at the tailgate, Sam immediately started doing better,” Furman said.
The name has now changed a couple of times to reflect the name of a person who everyone at the tailgate feels might need an extra boost of support during the game.
“We have called it ‘The Born Again Christian’ one year for Christian Hackenberg and we called it the ‘CJF’ for Coach James Franklin when he was on the hot seat in 2016 and it has always seemed to work,” bragged Golaszewski. “Whoever we have rallied behind seemed to have a great season.”
~ by D.J. Bauer
If you ask Wilbur Tice what makes his tailgate special, he’ll tell you “nothing.”
Many others would beg to differ.
Let’s start with the location. Out of the thousands of cars and trucks parked in and around campus on gameday, Tice’s RV is as close as physically possible the west-facing gates of Beaver Stadium.
Then, there’s how long Tice, of Lancaster, has been doing this: 31 years. Then there’s the accolade his tailgate won.
And then there’s this – he’s not even an alumnus of Penn State. A graduate from Lehigh University, Tice got hooked on tailgating because of his father-in-law, a Penn Stater through and through.
“When they were building Beaver Stadium, they allowed (my father-in-law) to stand on scaffolding and pick his seats right at the 50-yard line,” Tice said. “He was a big Penn State alum, and he was very close friends with Joe Paterno.”
Though Tice’s father-in-law has been gone for 12 years, Tice has carried on the decades-long tailgating tradition in the same parking spot that his father-in-law chose all those years ago. Of course, it wouldn’t be a tradition without all the friends that come along for the ride.
One of them is Mike Girouard, a State College resident.
“(My wife and I) have known Wilbur for over 30 years,” Girouard said. “I’m from this area, so a lot of times we have multiple tailgates, but this is the one we consider to be our home base.”
Another friend is Todd Speck, a 25-year Penn State football season ticket holder and seven-year visitor to Tice’s tailgates, who happened to meet Tice just by circumstance.
“Seven years ago, I stopped in (to tailgate) and got a spot right beside him,” Speck said. “At the time I had an RV that I’ve since sold, but when I pulled in, we hit it off right away.”
Others have, too. The Tice tailgate was selected as the best in State College in 2012 by the Big Ten Network’s “Tailgate 48,” a television program that showcased some of the best pregame festivities around the conference.
“When ‘Tailgate 48’ came to State College, they just happened to walk around the corner,” Tice said. “They really loved my sausage, peppers and onions.”
Clearly, the food is a selling point, and everyone seems to have a favorite. Tice himself likes the mac and cheese, Girouard favors the sausage, and Speck loves the meatball sliders.
“It’s essentially a mini cheeseburger,” Speck said. “There’s cheese and bacon in the sliders too. I go through a hundred myself every tailgate.”
The food’s not the only thing to rave about, though. According to Speck, the real highlight of Tice’s tailgates is the atmosphere.
“Coach Franklin talks about family reunions every Saturday, and that’s what Wilbur’s tailgate is,” Speck said. “Anyone can walk to this tailgate right here, sit down, eat and have a drink. It’s like one big family.”
Feast of the Week
~ by Josh Starr
It’s not often that Penn State fans decide to embrace the football team’s opponent, but the McWhirter family tailgate does just that.
Brothers Brian and Mark McWhirter have had a family tailgate for the last eight years. Every week, they pitch their white tent in their four Medlar Field parking lot spaces.
They look up the hill through a slew of trees at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. They watch Big Ten football on the television set up under the tent. Next to the TV stand tables of food, prepared for the day.
For the McWhirters, and many other tailgaters, food makes or breaks the tailgate and they always have a trick up their sleeves for their game day menu.
“We’ve got it all,” Brian said.
Each week, Brian and Mark think creatively about the Penn State football team’s opponent. While some fans spend their week coming up with creative insults and learning the players’ names so they can heckle the rival effectively, the McWhirters brainstorm about different types of food that pertain to that week’s opponent.
“For the away team, we always have a theme regarding them,” said Mark. “We’re very specific about that.”
The 2019 season got off to a tasty start, too. It kicked off with fresh-cut French fries made from Idaho potatoes.
The McWhirters added some kick to the Week Two tailgate with homemade Buffalo chicken dip, sliders and wings (for the University of Buffalo, of course).
A lot goes into preparing the tailgate for all the friends and family that stop by. The McWhirters cook up their game day buffet throughout the whole week.
“We’ll prep as much as we can before we get here, but there are some things we have to cook (on site),” Brian said.
Once a year, however, the brothers ignore the visiting team and have their most anticipated feast of the season.
Usually for the biggest game of the year, either Michigan or Ohio State, the McWhirter tailgate transforms from a finger-food heaven to a five-star tent. That week, the family chows down on steak and lobster. That’s the week the McWhirters look forward to most every year.
While many people stress out for other reasons on gameday, only one thing bothers Brian.
“The only headache is cleaning up,” Brian said, “but that’s a small price to pay for a good time.”
The White Bus
~ by Noah Chast
There’s the blue, Penn State school bus that drops the football team off every gameday morning at Beaver Stadium. Now, there’s a new school bus in State College that is quickly gaining ground as the next great Penn State bus. His name is Buster.
Buster is an out-of-service school bus that has been fully renovated to be a legal motor home and has become a new staple in the tailgate lots. The makeshift mobile home is owned by the Brian Soltis, now a North Carolina resident, and is used jointly with his parent’s RV to create the family’s up-and-coming tailgate scene.
Soltis graduated Penn State in 2014 and has had Buster up and functioning as the tailgate attraction for the past three years.
The bus is all white with “Penn State” painted on one side and the Penn State logo on the other. It can fit up to 18 people in it, though Brian’s sister, Katie Soltis, prefers to stay with her parents on game day.
“I sleep on the RV,” said Katie. “A lot of friends and pretty much most of the people here sleep on the bus.”
The bus has gotten a lot of attention in the past three years, including be featured on a segment for ESPN’s “College GameDay.” In addition, the bus has its own Instagram page named “Buster the Bus” which has been used to try and attract big name visitors.
“We tried to get Joe Jonas to come to our tailgate,” Katie said. “He didn’t come, but his manager liked our Instagram post so the Joe bros support the bus.”
That was encouraging enough for the group who take a lot of pride in the work they have put in with Buster. While the big white bus is the main attraction, the Soltis tailgate has plenty more to offer.
Brian and Katie’s parents are both Penn State graduates who have been tailgating since their freshman year in 1980. They took a hiatus for a while before starting up again when Brian came to Penn State in 2010. The Pittsburgh natives now have their own RV they bring up to games and co-host the family tailgate.
The Soltis’ like to keep their pregame parties fresh and exciting by adding a theme to each one. For the game against Pittsburgh, they went with a luau, and provided all their guests with homemade hibachi.
“One thing a lot of people like is we have a pizza oven,” said father Shawn Soltis. “That would probably be our go-to.”
The themed tailgates add plenty of creativity to the dual RV set up, but sometimes the weather makes things a bit difficult.
During the 2018 season the group planned a “Game of Thrones” themed beer Olympics for the tailgate. However, rainy weather and muddy conditions closed the tailgate lots and forced a change of plans.
“Everyone took all the food and supplies from this tailgate and brought it to my house at Penn State,” said Katie who graduated last May. “So, we had to throw a make shift Game of Thrones tailgate.”
Brian, the brains behind Buster, plans to keep the bus coming as long as he runs.
Said Brian: “It will be here as long as it survives.”
Turf & White Lines
~ by Noah Riffe
Grandpa Blue Band
~ by Allison Rambler
Members of the Penn State Blue Band call Dave Cree “Grandpa.” Cree volunteered for the Blue Band for 28 years, and he is now a paid staff assistant.
Cree repairs and maintains instruments, facilitates rehearsals, and conducts on the field during the band’s pregame and halftime show performances. But it is his kindness and enthusiastic support of all band members that has made him a Blue Band favorite.
Cree is also a long-time musician and plays the saxophone, flute and clarinet in community bands in the State College area.
~ by Elizabeth Palma
Nittanyville Campers are a committed group of Penn State students who have pledged their loyalty to the Nittany Lions’ football team. The student-run organization has formed a community of Penn State fans, who, in the middle of their busy school weeks, set up camp outside of Beaver Stadium’s Gate A. Days before kick-off, hot or cold, rain or shine, the students sleep in tents and engage in activities in advance of a home Penn State football game.
Clean & Refresh
~ by Amanda Thieu
It takes a large team off the field to accommodate the 107,000 fans who attend Penn State football games. Wade Robbins is an essential part of that team, but his name is one you probably won’t recognize. Robbins owns Robinson Septic Inc. and he has a contract with the university to maintain the portable toilets. Eight hours after Penn State’s kickoff, Wade’s crew begins to clean and refresh the toilets that can be found around the stadium grounds and parking lots.
Podcast: Sidelines Stories
~ produced by Brittany Krugel
On football Saturdays as the Nittany Lions run onto the field with Coach James Franklin, more than 106,000 fans are on their feet. But not everyone involved takes the field or basks in applause. Hundreds of people behind the scenes work tirelessly to make Game Day great. These are their stories.