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Battista: 'One of the Happiest Days of My Life'

by on September 17, 2010 9:36 PM

Editor's note: Joe Battista is the former longtime coach of the Penn State Icers club-hockey team. He worked closely with Terrence and Kim Pegula as they planned their $88 million gift to the university, which was announced Friday. Battista, also the former executive director of the Nittany Lion Club, penned this reflection exclusively for StateCollege.com.

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I didn’t sleep much Thursday night.

I was too excited that my lifelong dream of helping to build a varsity ice-hockey program was about to come true, thanks to an extraordinary gift from two of the most giving people you will ever meet: Terry and Kim Pegula. 

Talk about transformational days! Heidi, my wife of 21 years, said she felt as nervous, exhilarated, and emotional as she did for our wedding. I smiled “like a butcher’s dog” (a favorite quote from Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange!) and said I felt exactly the same way! 

So how does one begin to describe a dream come true? Not just one of those silly daydreams; I’m talking big. Real big—really, really big—at the “Impossible Dream” level.

There is no way to put this all in one column, but I will sum it up with one thought: There are still good people in the world who care and who want to make life better for others. The Pegulas are such people. 

He is a Penn State grad and a self-proclaimed “rink rat” who fell in love with the Buffalo Sabres and helped coach his son’s youth team in Olean and Buffalo, N.Y. Kim grew up in a household where her parents hailed from Ottawa and Montreal. Their kids are avid Penguins fans.

In addition to their passion for hockey, they are known for their generosity. When I helped arrange for a backstage photo with their kids and the Jonas Brothers (thanks to Bernie Punt), the family handed Nick Jonas a rather large check for juvenile-diabetes research. Terry and Kim never told any of us they were doing this, but the look on Nick’s face was priceless!

Sept. 17, 2010, will always be a special day because of this amazing announcement. It actually started a while earlier when I was in Boston getting a VIP tour of Boston University’s Agganis Arena from 1980 USA Olympic Team Captain Mike Eruzione. I traded the following texts with Terry:

TP:  I just signd the agmt It’s a great day for hocky in HAPPY Valley. Ha!

JB:  If the ink is dry, I am taking my wife out tonight to celebrate in your honor! I have tears in my eyes!! THANK YOU!!

TP: Well this is just the start now we gotta build a powerhouse.

JB: Dying to thank you!!! Call when u can!! I can't thank you and Kim enough! I really thought that our dream would never happen in my lifetime! This is just an amazing day! It's a GREAT DAY FOR HOCKEY!! We are!!

Later, I was playing golf with Terry, Cliff Benson, Denny Patton, and Penguins great Pierre Larouche at the Pens' Summer Sticks Classic at Allegheny Country Club. We played well, dodged the rain, and had a great dinner with the Pens players, coaches and owners. Sidney Crosby shook Terry’s hand and said, “Mr. Pegula, I heard what you are doing for Penn State. You are doing a great thing for the sport of hockey and I want to thank you.” Classy thing to do from a classy young superstar in the NHL. 

The positive reaction to this news has been overwhelming. This was one of the happiest days of my life, one filled with e-mails and texts from family, friends, colleagues, former players, and fans. The following note I received just prior to the press conference from Geoff Martha, a former Icer team captain, Smeal College President's Award winner, Schreyer Honors College grad, and a very successful executive for GE Healthcare. I started crying.  (I’m Italian; I’m emotional.)

Coach,

I wish I could be there today to share in the big moment with you. I know the announcement will be broadcast shortly... you must be on "cloud 9." The main reason I wanted to be with you today is not for the reasons you might expect.  Yes, I'm excited about the program finally taking the "big step" we've always dreamed about... and I'm proud to be associated with the program. Not a day goes by I don't think about Penn State Hockey. 

However, biggest reason I wanted to be in State College today was to be reminded of what it takes to win... and the awesome feeling one feels when it all comes together (the feeling I am sure you are experiencing today). You don't get to see it often... it's rare, it's special and it inspires me. I'm referring to all the hard work, perseverance, vision and personal sacrifice you've put into this over the years. Most people will be celebrating the "big announcement today... the big moment." I, on the other hand, will be thinking of the journey... the long road you've been down. It's not lost on me just how much you've put into this...and how many "low points" you've experienced... you've persevered through. And how many sacrifices you've made so that today could happen. 

I'm sure you questioned your faith along the way, but you always stayed committed and focused. Your work and your example are inspiring to me...and others as well. I hope you really enjoy the moment, and I'm sure you will never forget what it took to get to this point...hard work, sacrifice, vision and courage... day in, and day out... for years... that is my definition of "excellence." I think it's rare and very special. You've earned it. You really helped make this happen, (with a lot of help from the Pegulas! I'm very appreciative of their contribution!!!). 

Your friend,

Geoff

Terry and Kim have done something so amazing and so selfless to realize their passion for PSU and hockey. I am just lucky enough to be here to see the dream come true. Scholarships will be endowed, a building for the whole community will be built, and there will be varsity hockey at Penn State. 

Suddenly winters just got a lot warmer in Happy Valley.

Earlier coverage



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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