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Penn State Athletics in Da Burgh

by on May 18, 2017 5:00 AM

 

May 10 was a busy time for Penn Staters in Western Pennsylvania. The Coaches Caravan featuring head football coach James Franklin was held at the Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, while the Nittany Lion baseball team took on an old rival in the West Virginia Mountaineers at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

While I was not able to attend the Coaches Caravan in person, but those who attended gave the speakers good reviews when we saw them later that evening at PNC Park. Coach Franklin was joined at the hotel by Director of Athletics, Sandy Barbour, Nittany Lion women's soccer coach Erica Dambach, swimming and diving coach Tim Murphy and a number of other athletics officials.   

A hot topic was the Atheltics Facilities Master Plan. With the soccer and swimming facilities being a big part of the plan, Coach Dambach and Coach Murphy had the opportunity to talk about what those improvements will mean to their programs. Speaking of the master plan, I am all in favor of replacing East Area Locker Room complex (EALR), having managed that facility for a number of years

EALR was home to field Hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse locker rooms, a strength training facility, athletic training room, equipment room, offices, and an academic support area. While EALR certainly served its purpose over the years, including the old football locker room prior to Lasch Building, the proposed Center for Excellence and the attached indoor practice facility would be welcome by everyone involved in athletics.

My afternoon started with a meeting with Pirates CFO and Penn State alumnus Jim Plake at the Pirates’ executive offices. Jim and his wife, Carol, are wonderful people and I first got to know them when their daughter Joanie was a member of the women’s lacrosse team during my Nittany Lion Club days.  

As I departed the Pirates’ offices I ran smack into another old friend, Penn Stae professor Dr. Carl Ohlson and his son Eric. They live two streets away from me back in State College and Eric was friends’ with my oldest son, Jon. Eric once joined us on a trip to our old family camp, Backachers, in Tidioute, Pa., and lived to tell the tale.

Eric is a broadcast journalism major who has been blessed with a voice that you may one day hear broadcasting Penn State athletics or even Major League Baseball. He is cutting his teeth broadcasting games on CommRadio at PSU.

Later that afternoon my parents, Joe and Angie, joined my daughter Brianna (Penn State Class of 2015) and I at a reception for Penn State and West Virginia alums hosted by Pirates owner Bob Nutting, who is a native of West Virginia, and Pirates President Frank Coonelly (Penn State Class of 1983). Frank is an old ice hockey player from William Tennent High School outside Philadelphia.

We ran into a lot of our Penn State Duquesne Club friends including Mel Rex, Jim Dawson, Mike McGinley and Ron Moehler, to name a few. Former Penn State football players Franco Harris and Dan Delligatti also joined us. For those of us who grew up with the Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia rivalries, it was a time to remember the great games played between the schools back in the day.

It was also an opportunity for me to catch up with longtime friend and PSU classmate Paul Alexander. Paul is a popular Pittsburgh sportscaster who works for ROOT Sports. He was a sportswriter for the Daily Collegian back when I was a member of the Icers and he was a strong advocate for elevating the ice hockey program to varsity status in the early 1980’s.

Paul and I played hockey against each other growing up on the east side of Pittsburgh. He had a good time rubbing it in as our friends listened while we talked about hockey stories from high school. Paul played hockey for our archrival Churchill (now Woodland Hills), a perennial state champion, while I played for Penn Hills. We defeated Churchill in both regular season meetings my senior year but they upset us in the quarterfinals of the 1978 state playoffs.

There is a mile marker sign along I-376 heading into Pittsburgh from the East that indicates Churchill is four miles away, while Penn Hills is three miles. So the sign reads:

 

Churchill 4

Penn Hills 3

 

Why is this significant? Because it is a constant reminder of the final score from what turned out to be my final high school game, a bitter 4-3 defeat at the hands of Paul’s Churchill squad.

Ok, now it was time to play ball as Coach Rob Cooper’s Nittany Lions looked to upset a very good WVU squad for a second night in a row, having won 6-5 in Morgantown on Tuesday. This was kind of a big deal for the players to get to play at the home of the Pirates. It's always fun going to PNC Park. In my humble opinion, it is the absolute best ballpark in the major leagues. Of course, I have only actually stepped foot inside 10 MLB stadiums so that has to be factored into my rather biased evaluation.

It was an entertaining game, but in the end a tough night for our Nittany Lion sluggers as they fell 4-2. They just left too many men on base in their attempt to sweep the Mountaineers. It's been a tough year for Coach Cooper's boys, with injuries and close games, but there's still a chance to catch them at home this weekend against Nebraska. We are blessed with our own gem of a baseball stadium, so get out and support seniors in their final home stand.

In the late stages of the game I ran into Sandy Barbour and Deputy AD Phil Esten. After a brief discussion about the Coaches Caravan and the master plan, I was reminded what Abe Madkour, the executive editor of the Sports Business Journal, said when he spoke at the Freeman Auditorium in the HUB a few months ago. During his engaging discussion he stated, “The toughest job in all of sports is being the athletic director of a Power 5 conference school.”

I am sure there are times when Sandy Barbour can concur.

The evening did end on a high note for those of us who cheer for Pittsburgh sports teams. Both PSU and WVU fans crowded around a television in the Lexus Club in PNC Park to watch the final eight minutes of the Penguins victory in game 7 against their rival Washington Capitals. As the final horn sounded Franco Harris high-fived all the fans watching the game regardless of whether they were Mountaineers or Nittany Lions. For that moment we were all Pittsburgh Penguins fans.

In the midst of the WVU and PSU fans leaving PNC Park, I did spot one gentleman wearing a Pitt football sweatshirt. It was a reminder that we will host the Panthers on Sept. 9 at Beaver Stadium. The Penn State alums from Pittsburgh will be part of their own caravan that day heading to Happy Valley to cheer on the Nittany Lions.


 

 



From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, Joe has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. Battista was influential in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. After a 2-year stint as VP of Hockey and Business administration for the Buffalo Sabres, “JoeBa” returned home to start “PRAGMATIC Passion”, LLC Consulting. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 &’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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