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Joe Battista: Nothing Like the Holidays to Put Things in Perspective

by on December 27, 2012 9:06 AM

As 2012 comes to an end it is naturally a good time to look back and take stock of what has transpired. It has been “the best of times and the worst of times” in Happy Valley in 2012. Like many of you, I would bet that this past year took its toll emotionally. We are told that life is a journey and that we will experience many highs and lows while on that journey. Well, this past year had enough highs and lows to fill a lifetime.

The highs included my son Jonathon graduating from State College Area High School and finishing the fall semester of his freshman year making Dean’s List as an Information Sciences and Technology major. My son Ryan’s all-star baseball team won districts and sectionals (for which I was forced to shave my trademark mustache) and finished fifth at the state tournament. My daughter Brianna, a junior at PSU, is in charge of all the recruiting interns for Penn State football, and my wife Heidi and I each celebrated our 25th year of employment in our respective companies.

From a professional perspective, a lifelong dream of mine came true as varsity hockey has returned to Penn State after a 66-year absence. Pegula Ice Arena is now a tangible building that’s on schedule to open in September.

But the lows have been a bit more than most would want to deal with in a given year. We have endured the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the unprecedented (and unreasonable) NCAA sanctions handed down to our football program. It’s been a tough year for many of our longtime friends at Penn State, especially in athletics.

We lost our legendary football coach and community icon. Coach Joe Paterno once wrote a letter of recommendation for me in 1982 that helped land my first job. I will always remember him for the positive accomplishments of his career and life. It is my sincere hope that as the New Year unfolds, that history will be kinder to Coach and that we will be able to celebrate his accomplishments as a part of the healing process.

Presently, we still have more questions than answers about how this all could have happened in our peaceful valley. Unfortunately, 2013 may bring even more emotional stress to the local populace before we can have clarity and, hopefully, peace of mind. I fear we may never completely have either.

So as I sat down with my wife to write the annual Battista Christmas letter (which has become a sort of family history in the making), the flood of emotions that was 2012 came out. When I asked Heidi what was the most significant thing that happened this year, she could not help but cut right to the chase. She said that as much as she tried to think of the good that occurred this past year, the news of the trial and the sanctions dominated our lives. Sad, but true. And you know what they say about the truth. Sometimes, it hurts.

It’s also been tough year on the health front for my family as well. Heidi severed her Achilles tendon playing tennis and is going through the long physical therapy toward recovery. My son Jonathon had corrective jaw surgery and had to endure the “blend to mend” diet while starting the fall semester of his freshman year at PSU. I am dealing with Esophagitis (at least in part due to 25 years as a hockey coach screaming at referees!). We joke about the fact that Heidi’s dad “Smitty” is the healthiest member of the family at 92.

Ah yes, Smitty. At 92 he still lives in his own home two blocks from our family. He has witnessed much in those 92 years and very little rattles him. Anyone who has ever met him walks away with a smile after conversing with him. He is the humble patriarch of the Smith family, the last of five siblings, who grew up in the tiny village of Tidioute, Pa., which is northwest of the Allegheny National Forest. He is a veteran, a Penn State engineering grad and spent 30 plus years working for General Electric. Sitting at the table talking with Grandpa Smitty is a holiday treat for everyone.

So as the holidays approached, my thoughts turned to spending some downtime with Smitty and both of our families. I found myself exhaling a cleansing breath to say goodbye to 2012 and to concentrate on resting, relaxing and spending time catching up with family. Playing cards, “Buzzword” and “Headbanz,” eating big family meals, going to the movies, shopping for bargains and basically forgetting all the world’s problems. Life is all good when biting into my mom’s homemade meatballs and her banana cream pie.

The family holiday will end too soon but not before we attend the Three Rivers Classic College Hockey Tournament to cheer PSU on at Consol Energy Center on Friday and Saturday. Not before we celebrate a good friend’s 50th wedding anniversary. Not before we see Les Misérables.

So regardless of the ups and downs and regardless of the news that dominated our year, being with our family and friends for the holidays reminded us all that the journey will go on and that better days are ahead.

We wish you and yours a very Happy and Healthy 2013.

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From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, JoeBa has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities. Battista was an influential player in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley. He is now Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Buffalo Sabres.
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