Over the past year and half, I've wondered about what the outside voices have said about this community and small town feel and whether State College and Penn State, and specifically whether Penn State football has produced a culture where football is first and foremost and put at the expense of everything else.
It has been my experience that it has not, that the impact of Penn State on the local community has been incredibly positive, allowing for more diversity and well rounded individuals than you would find in other areas of the country.
I grew up in State College when Penn State was at its height of National Prominence, having won its first National Championship in 1982 and again in 1986. Everything around me was Penn State sports. My Father had been a member of its baseball team. My mother became part of its administration working for the development office, my grandfather a former professor.
As I grew up, from an early age, I could detect the obsession this town had with the football team. The amount of pride that existed within the community for the players, for Joe Paterno, and for what it meant to be a part of Penn State. I remember the chatter in 1994 as the team would achieve an undefeated season and finish in controversy with an undefeated season and no part of the National Championship.
I remember the riots that occurred after upsetting North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. I remember the successful wrestling teams, the dominance of the women's volleyball and basketball programs. I know just how much passion there is in this town for athletics.
Yet for all the emphasis surrounding athletics, just as much, if not more, was put into academics.
As kids growing up in the culture of Penn State, we are constantly reminded about the idea of Student Athletes and the importance of our education. We understand that though athletics may afford us an opportunity to achieve a measure of status within our peer groups, ultimately we judge each by the content of our character and our pursuits beyond the playing fields.
In State College, no one wants to be the jock. No one wants to be 'The Football Player'. or 'The Basketball Player'. We don't aspire to only become just the smartest, or the most creative.
We want to be everything.
Over the course of life, we eventually find out that we have our flaws and our strengths. One may be weak in the areas of creativity but can grasp mathematic formulas with ease. Perhaps one person has the will power and desire to build muscular strength but lacks the passion for cardiovascular fitness. In most cultures I believe it is acceptable to make sacrifices and delve completely into strengths and forgoing work on weaknesses.
If a prodigious athletic talent emerges, the community and family may embrace an extremely rigorous training regimen at the expense of doing homework, expecting poorer grades as a sacrifice. The opposite is also true, if one may have an incredible aptitude for learning, perhaps advanced placement classes will be coupled with additional hours of studying for standardized tests.
Yet here in State College, there is precedent for believing that excellence in one field does not preclude one from having success in another. We look at the culture of the Penn State football program as an example because it has routinely had stellar graduation rates and academic All-Americans. That more than the wins and losses is what the community is most proud of.
We look at the other athletes who were products of Penn State culture, some of which did not necessarily attend Penn State. Some attend Yale or Harvard, some maybe smaller schools such as Slippery Rock, Juniata, or IUP. They all are representative of a culture that influences far more than just a love of athletics.
If Penn State culture is anything it's about the balance struck between athletics and academia, or more simply put; a balance of body and mind. While it's true that this community has a great deal of pride in it's athletics, there has always been just as much if not more pride in it's academic standing.