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Penn State takes it all very personally

Students and alumni show support for the victims of child abuse, as interest in the football game goes on the back burner this week

November 12, 2011|Dylan Hernandez
  • Penn State students and supporters hold a candlelight vigil on campus Friday night for victims of child abuse in the wake of the child-abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Penn State students and supporters hold a candlelight vigil on campus Friday… (Mario Tama / Getty Images )

STATE COLLEGE, PA. — The area known as Paternoville sits at the corner of Curtin and Porter roads, in front of Gate A at Beaver Stadium.

On weeks leading up to Penn State's home football games, tents are erected here by hundreds of students who sleep on concrete and withstand the cold to sit at the front of their designated seating section come Saturday.

Tim Rash spent this week at the makeshift tent city, named in honor of longtime football coach Joe Paterno.

Were this any other week, he and other campers would have been talking about the implications of their 12th-ranked team's game against 19th-ranked Nebraska. Paterno might have even delivered them pizza, as he had so many times before.

But not this week. When Rash, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, emerged from his tent at 5:30 Friday morning, his eyes were blinded by the bright lights of news vans.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 13, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Penn State: An article in the Nov. 12 Sports section about Friday's scene at Penn State University in the wake of the school's child sexual abuse scandal gave the wrong name for a website that has been set up to support victims of sexual abuse. The correct website is

"They were getting ready for the 6 o'clock news," he said.

Paterno, after more than four decades on the job, is no longer the head coach. The focus is not on the game but on sex crimes against children allegedly committed by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Offensive schemes? Defensive formations? "No one's been asking those questions," Rash said. "Nobody's asked about the game."

A short distance away, an overflow crowd attended the first public gathering of the university's full, 32-member board of trustees, which formed an investigative committee that will examine the actions of school officials who failed to stop Sandusky's alleged activities.

Former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report an alleged 2002 assault by Sandusky that assistant coach Mike McQueary told a grand jury he witnessed.

McQueary told authorities that he reported what he saw to Paterno, who in turn told Curley. But police say they were not contacted and Sandusky was simply instructed not to bring children onto the campus.

Wednesday night, four days after the grand jury report became public and Sandusky was arrested, Paterno and university president Graham Spanier were fired. The revered coach's dismissal quickly touched off a violent demonstration where a news van was overturned and rocks were thrown at police.

On Friday, McQueary was put on administrative leave, with acting university President Rodney Erickson saying the coach wouldn't attend Saturday's game because he had received threats.

Bad news seemed to come from everywhere. Moody's Investors Service said it might downgrade the university's credit rating in light of potential lawsuits and other "reputational and financial risk" the school was likely to endure. Those risks included "weaker student demand, declines in philanthropic support ... and significant management or governance changes," Moody's said in a news release.

Meantime, the university's faculty senate called for students and employees to "act in ways that bring honor to our institution and ourselves."

Some already were.

Students and fans who typically dress in all white for big games were encouraged to instead wear blue in support of child abuse victims. There was also a candlelight vigil attended by thousands late Friday on the lawn outside the university's administration building, Old Main. Organizers said it was held to "show respect and support" for the children allegedly victimized.

John Balog, a fourth-year student, said he was upset by how Penn State students were portrayed as caring only about football. He said only a handful of students were responsible for Wednesday night's violence and most "were just chanting."

Larena Lettow, a 1998 graduate who now lives in New Jersey, was concerned enough about her alma mater's image that she and her friends launched a website to raise money to support victims and survivors of sexual abuse. As of Friday night, had raised close to $200,000.

Lettow said she and her friends were "rocked to our core."

"We believed in the image of Penn State," she said.

Lettow met her husband, Brian Rolli, in her final semester in school. Rolli works in finance. They have two children. "Penn State taught us to give back," she said.

What was particularly maddening to her was how Sandusky allegedly used a charitable organization as a cover to abuse children.

Lettow was on her way to her old campus Friday. "I need to stand by my university," she said. "They have defined a large part of who I am."

Penn State is in the borough of State College, the proverbial middle of nowhere. Between State College and Harrisburg, home of the nearest major airport, most towns start and end within a couple of off-ramps on the two-lane highway. Outside of town are miles and miles of forest.

"To get there," Lettow said, "you have to want to go there."

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