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chapter 1 Life in Happy Valley The Name and the Paterno Impact “Be not too hasty to trust or to admire the teachers of morality; they discourse like angels, but they live like men.” —Samuel Johnson (1759) “The winds of fate can turn you around, run you aground, sink you, and sometimes you can’t do a thing about it.” —Joe Paterno (2000) In small-town America with a big-time football team, life can be different from life for other folks across the nation. When I interviewed for a position in sport history at Penn State in early April 1968, I came away with an idealized view of Happy Valley. Spring had arrived, the flowers were out as was the sun, it was warm, and my interviews went well. I called back to my wife in Wisconsin, where the snow had only recently melted away. She was about to have our second child, and I told her how great it would be to move here. It seemed idyllic, and that even included being picked up at the isolated airport up in the mountains at Black Moshannon, twenty long miles from State College. I was told that airport workers regularly drove the deer off the runway with a jeep, and from there a long, winding road finally led to civilization, something less than an hour away. I began my short stay in State College, hopeful that if I were offered and accepted the position, I wouldn’t have to fly often on Allegheny Airlines. The low mountains of Appalachia hid much of the near poverty that was only a few miles away from the university. State College, the epicenter of Happy Valley , was and is essentially an appendage to Penn State University. Located in the center of the state in Centre County, Mount Nittany overlooks the university in fertile Nittany Valley. The area appeared to have had no poverty, or it was hidden from the well-traveled routes into the town of about 30,000. It was a little oasis of green. It appeared lush and prosperous, a contrast to the surrounding Appalachia that was verdant but much poorer. On my interview visit, I was paraded past Beaver Stadium, the less than impressive 40-some thousand capacity home of the Nittany Lions, that had only recently had its steel stands removed from Smith_text.indd 1 12/7/15 11:11 AM 2 chapter 1 near the center of the university and erected again on the bare eastern edge of campus. There, parking was available and cows were abundant. It was home to a young and outspoken coach who had a modestly impressive 13 and 7 record in his first two years at the helm. During my short visit to State College, I was housed on the outskirts of town, with a single stoplight on its major street, in one of its few motels, a Holiday Inn. From there I was transported daily from South Atherton Street to the university located on the appropriately named College Avenue. Along College Avenue, from its earliest existence at the founding of the mid-nineteenth-century Farmers’ High School (Penn State), was the business district, devoted to serving the university, and close by were a number of singlefamily houses and fraternities. I was impressed that the Physical Education Department had its own library, likely the result of the influence of John Lawther, basketball coach at Penn State for thirteen years beginning in the midst of the Great Depression. Lawther had degrees in psychology, wrote a book, Psychology of Coaching, and had earned the respect of Penn State academics after he resigned his coaching responsibilities in 1949 to become a demanding professor and associate dean of the college that also housed athletics. The small library in the college, the John Lawther Reading Room, indicated to me that the Penn State Physical Education Department took academics seriously, something that was not always the case in other universities, where it might be the dumping ground for mediocre students with athletic skills. Well before the naming of Joe Paterno’s Grand Experiment of promoting academics and athletics, Penn State was already doing so under Lawther as associate dean and Ernie McCoy as athletic director and dean of the College of Physical Education and Athletics. McCoy, a transplant from the University of Michigan, wanted successful athletics and a strong academic department, and he gave the academic responsibility to Lawther. It was Lawther’s duty to hire individuals across the country...


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