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The Happiest Place in Happy Valley: The party goes on all football weekend long in the overnight RV lot outside Beaver Stadium

by on November 01, 2019 10:39 AM

Everyone loves a Penn State tailgate.

With friends, family, food, and football, those fall Saturday parities make great memories. But after a long day, most tailgates end with a slow drive out of the parking lot, into the sea of cars headed home from Beaver Stadium. 

What if your tailgate could go on all weekend long, however?

What if, instead of rushing in on game day only to have to set up quickly when you arrive, you could roll out of bed with a view of Beaver Stadium? 

And instead of having to pack up after the game and face a long drive home, you could relax and relish a Nittany Lions’ victory in a makeshift town filled with Penn State friends along for the party?

For a diehard group of fans, tailgating is more than a day; it’s a whole weekend of camping and catching up with their Nittany Nation family in the overnight RV lot outside the stadium.

You can see them starting to move in on Thursday evenings before home games, out in the fields behind the Ag Arena. The RV drivers find their spot, plant their flags, and get right to it, setting up their new home for the weekend, often with the kids and dogs in tow.

The RVs range from simple to very elaborate, but most all are decked out in blue and white, ready to celebrate another Penn State football weekend for the duration, in a place that some like to call “the happiest place in Happy Valley.”

Getting the best spot

On Thursday night before home games, the ORV lot, as it is called, opens at 6. Early birds start lining up on Orchard Road before that, hoping to get the best spot. For some, the party starts right there in the road, waiting to get in, connecting with old friends and plotting about where to park. 

“We usually get here at noon on Thursday, and we are usually the first two here,” says Brian Shiley, of Hershey. He met Scott and Wanda Geezey, of Hanover, in the ORV lot about seven years ago and they became friends along the way. Now they get to the lot early on Thursday so they can set up next to each other in a prime spot with views of the stadium and folks walking into the game.

“We just sit in the access road on Thursday and tailgate until we can get in here, and then we set up and continue to tailgate Thursday night and Friday. And then Saturday is game day.”

The Geezeys have a nice Penn State collage in the front of their RV that makes people smile as they see it walking by into the game. Wanda says the people-watching is one of the best parts of the experience.

“You never know what you might see,” she says.

With a group of family and friends and up to eight dogs along for the ride, Wanda says sleeping in the RV is sometimes an adventure, but it is all part of the fun. The atmosphere and friendship, coupled with the easy ride home, make it all worth it.

“Not having to travel two hours home after the game, it is nice to come back and relax and just chill. And then Sunday morning we can pack up and go, and avoid all the traffic” Shiley says. 

Rise and shine

Early in the morning on Homecoming Saturday 2019, the air in the ORV lot is so cold that you can see your breath. 

With a noon game time (against Purdue), the crowds in the lot rise early in anticipation. For some, the noon kickoff is rough after a night of overindulgence, but it is hard to sleep with the smell of bacon, sausage, and eggs frying all around. Coffee and bloody Marys get the masses moving, and folks are all about sharing.

John and Terry Carnicella, retired police officers from Altoona, like to provide the crews working the lot with coffee and a little breakfast. 

“They are out there and they are cold, so bring them coffee and maybe a sandwich later,” John says. “We try to help out when we can.”

It is all part of the community atmosphere in the makeshift RV neighborhood. In this neighborhood, people share what they have and are always open to making new friends. And in this community, generations of fans bound by a love of Penn State celebrate together.

The Carnicellas’ granddaughter Ava Kratzer came in from Lewistown in the morning and says she loves to hang out with her grandparents before and after games.  

“I get to come over and hang out with the family and friends; it is fun,” Kratzer says.

The Carnicellas have been tailgating with an RV since 1992, but this is their first year staying overnight. They are pleased with the result.

“You get in here early and set up, have a great time with the people all around you. You meet new people all the time. … It is better than coming down in the morning because setting up everything takes an hour or so, and for the noon games especially, you’ve really got to hustle,” John says. “People are just so friendly down here. It is a party atmosphere.”

Their RV comes equipped with a queen bed, an air mattress, and a sofa, but the guys slept on foldable chairs overnight in a nice pop-up tent with a TV playing the Friday night game in the background.

Coffee on the deck

Matt and Suzy Calgren are Penn State grads who live in State College; they’ve had season tickets for a while. This year, they wanted to give the ORV lot a shot. They did it right, with an RV that has a hydraulic party deck on the end.

Matt said they got to the lot at 6 p.m. Thursday.While most people look for flat spots to set up, he’s willing to deal with a little slant as long as they have their preferred location, near the walkway to the stadium, with a view of some of Penn State’s most iconic locations.

“It has been quite fun so far. Having the opportunity to wake up Saturday morning, game day, and be able to flip that down and have a cup of coffee on the deck. We have a view of Mount Nittany, we have a view of the stadium, it is quite relaxing,” says Matt.

And the whole family is along for the ride.

“Our kids absolutely love it, they are having to blast,” says Suzy. “They are running around having fun, and at night we put them to bed and they sleep all night, ready to tailgate in the morning.”

Up a little further, Regan, Cara, and Liam Brady are having a bake sale to benefit another one of Penn State’s great traditions, THON, along with diabetes research. The past four years, they have raised nearly $1,000 in the ORV lot.

Closest hot tub to Beaver Stadium

An RV toy addiction is a difficult habit to break. Most start off with a simple setup, focused on the essentials, such as comfy bedding, cooking utensils, grill, folding chairs, and some tailgate games. But all around in the ORV lot, there are new ideas to be had. Many a camper has seen a new toy or gadget in a neighbor’s setup and thought, “Woah, I could use something like that, too.”

For many, the addition of new toys for their RV is organic. Maybe they buy a pizza oven. Maybe they are getting bored with the old tailgate standard, corn hole, so they need a new game to play. Or, maybe they found a new Penn State inflatable yard sign that they just had to have. Pretty soon there is not enough space to keep it all.

From elaborate decorations, to TVs, to full bars and games, the setups seem to get bigger every year. 

“We’ve been coming up for seven years now and really it has been an evolution. We started by renting a camper the first time, just with a couple of college buddies; we all graduated together,” says Ryan Fries. “It evolved to we got a small camper, and then we got a bigger one and bigger and bigger.”

Every year, they try out a new game, from a golf challenge that involved chipping balls into solo cups, to this year’s “football bowling,” which involves throwing a football at bowling pins. 

But none of their innovations can beat the inflatable outdoor hot tub that keeps the crew toasty all year long. Fries claims it is the closest hot tub to Beaver Stadium, and it would be hard to prove him wrong. 

The crew has to rig up a heater to get the water warm enough during October and November mornings, but to them, nothing beats sitting in the steamy hot tub with Beaver Stadium in the background on a cold autumn night after a Penn State victory.

Fries loves the whole vibe of the ORV lot and relishes the chance to come up with his buddies.

“It is almost like a block party all weekend long. Everybody is willing to invite you over and have a drink with them. Kids are running around having fun, and everybody feels safe. This is, in my opinion, the happiest place in Happy Valley.”

Mayor of Beavertown

Just as the area outside Beaver Stadium where students camp in tents is known as Nittanyville, Dave Altland thought the ORV lot needed a name as well. And with Beaver Stadium looming in the distance of this camp, Beavertown seemed the perfect fit.

And with his own rocking setup in the middle of the RV lot, which includes up to 75 of his Penn State family and friends, Altland is known as the mayor of Beavertown. 

“They appointed me, I don’t know. I was one of the individuals who started the tailgate here,” says Altland, who is from the Halifax area. “They are all friends and neighbors, people who are from our hometown, but we didn’t realize they were coming up for games and then we saw them up here and now it is one big party.”

Unlike Rome, Beavertown gets built in a day, but it is a lot of work; the whole crew pulls together to make it a success.

“We have a great crew here that helps set up. When we get here, everyone knows what to do. Everybody has their role and it helps to make it fun and enjoyable for everyone,” says Altland. “We just love it. It can get a little hectic during the day, but the best part is at the end of the night, after everything dies down, sitting inside and socializing with family and friends.”

Tailgating with a tail

Winston makes lots of friends in the ORV lot. It seems that everybody who sees him is amazed at how big he is. Many want to pet him, but it is not weird, because Wintson is a Great Dane. He comes to the ORV lot all season long from the Baltimore area with his family. And while he is a big dog, he does well sleeping in the RV with the family.

“He is kind of an oddity; people always want to come over and see him. And for the most part he likes it. After the hundredth person, he sometimes has had enough,” says Winston’s owner, Kim Marino.

Kim and her husband, Robert, both are alums and longtime Penn State fans. Now their RV serves as a meeting place for family and friends during Penn State weekends, as their two sons are following in Mom’s and Dad’s footsteps as undergraduates at Penn State.

Their youngest daughter, Danielle, is probably the biggest Penn State football fan in the whole family, and she says she loves the adventure of staying in the RV lot.

Their tailgate on wheels allows them to travel to away games as well, and Danielle was glad to see Penn State beat Maryland in late September. 

Besides the regal Winston, there are a number of dogs and even some cats roaming the RV lot with their families, some on a leash, some in pens, and all surely hoping to get a bite of some of that delicious tailgate food.

If you’re making a home away from home, you better bring the pets along.

Sweethearts divided

High school sweethearts John Lynch and Anna Fierro picked colleges that were far apart. John chose Penn State and Anna chose Purdue. They circled this game on the calendar. After all, what could be better than watching their two schools battle it out on the gridiron in Beaver Stadium?

Both of their families made the trip to the RV lot for the weekend.

“We are breaking up for the game,” says Anna, jokingly. “I am sitting with my family and he is going to the student section.”

Anna has been to a few Penn State games, but she never stayed in the RV lot before. She says the whole experience is something that is beyond anything that happens surrounding a Purdue home game, but she wears her black and gold proudly.

“It is super fun, staying in the RV lot,” she says.” I am glad my family came, because they have never even been to a Penn State game before.”

It wasn’t easy for Anna’s parents, John and Jennifer, to get the whole family up from New Jersey for the game, with Anna flying in from Indiana, and them renting an RV to get up to the stadium. But once they got in, the people in the RV lot were friendly despite the family’s Purdue flag.

“It’s been great; it is my first time here and I don’t know what I am doing, but everyone around has been nothing but helpful and friendly,” John says. “I didn’t know what to expect, because I’m from Jersey and we got the Jets and the Giants and MetLife Stadium and it is just a different animal. It doesn’t go on like this; it is more get in and get out. ”

Rooftop party

Californian Calvin Van Ruler has always been a college football fan and when his son started as a freshman at Penn State last year, he jumped at the chance to be a part of the tailgate tradition. He attended five games last year.

“Our first tailgate had eight people. By the end of the year, for Wisconsin, we had over 60,” says Van Ruler.

This year, he decided to go even bigger, with and a RV that is unrivaled, to use a Penn State slogan. 

All across the ORV lot on Homecoming weekend, people talked about his RV. Its many TVs, built-in grill, and “unrivaled” logo on its side were impressive, but what made it stand out was up above, a rooftop party.

After climbing a somewhat tricky ladder to the top, up to 20 people can have their tailgate party on the roof and enjoy a view of the stadium from above the crowd at the RV lot.

During the day, a couple of Penn State police stopped by, took a look, and moved on after determining that the roof was designed to hold that many people.

Calvin took a break to see his son, William, now a sophomore, on a float with his fraternity during the Homecoming parade Friday night. On Saturday, William and a large group of his friends joined his dad for a tailgate in the RV lot.

“I love it. It is a little bit crazy, because he is coming all the way from the West Coast,” William says. “Once I came out here, he kind of took off with it. That was an excuse to relive his glory days and come and see me and he took and ran with it. But I love it; it is a mix of people, some of my friends, his friends, and family.”

“It is nothing like I ever felt before, being up there,” William says about partying on the roof, and the whole ORV lot in general. “Everybody is happy, everyone is coming together for a good time.”

 

Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.

 



Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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