Yes, my fellow sports fan, I understand. It’s not easy to be shut out of the Penn State football home opener. Especially when you know that Beaver Stadium will be virtually empty. Especially when the Ohio State Buckeyes are invading. And especially when the game has been designated a “White Out.”
But if Bucky Quici can live with such a distasteful reality, I guess you and I can also accept it. After all, Bucky is one of Centre County’s foremost sports aficionados. He played basketball and baseball for Bellefonte High School in the late 1960s and then successfully coached softball and girls’ basketball for several decades at his alma mater. These days, he serves as president of the board of directors for the Centre County Sports Hall of Fame, and he’s slated to enter that Hall as an honoree whenever COVID-19 permits a banquet to be held. Even in the summer when folks are flocking to the beach, Bucky is more likely to be seen at a Spikes baseball game—sometimes running the scoreboard as a volunteer.
Indeed, Mr. Bucky Quici is a certified sportsaholic. And of all his sports-related passions, I’m pretty sure the Nittany Lion gridders are at the top of his list. He graduated from Penn State in 1974, and since 1973 he’s served as a Beaver Stadium usher. These days, he’s the head usher for the entire stadium—except for the student section which is overseen by his close friend, Mark McFall.
Bucky hasn’t missed an opening game at the Beav since 1971, so I decided I needed to talk to him before the Ohio State clash. If misery loves company, he’s one guy who’s probably more miserable than me. Could Bucky offer perspective to me—and you—in dealing with COVID’s sports-related cancellations and restrictions? I decided to ask him, and I made sure to arrange a conversation before the Ohio State game.
Bucky, you haven’t missed a single home opener at Beaver Stadium for the last 48 years. How is it going to feel when you’re watching the Ohio State game on television?
Quici: It’s going to be really, really strange. I’ll be thinking, “Wait a minute. That’s Beaver Stadium, and I’m here.” It’s going to be very different. I keep thinking of what that’s going to be like, and I’m not sure.
How are you going to feel if Penn State pulls an upset?
Quici: Obviously, we want to win. And the last time we beat Ohio State on the blocked field goal, that game was absolutely amazing. I don’t know, it’s so much of an unknown right now. It’s just strange, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. There’s something like 107,000 people who are going to be in the same shoes as me on Saturday.
Will you and your wife host a TV party?
Quici: No, but we might go to the home of some friends. We have a group of eight or 10 who are all good friends and we have our little (COVID) bubble. They’re all ushers, they work for me at the stadium.
Have you heard from a lot of your other ushers? What are they saying?
Quici: Yes, I’ve been getting lots of phone calls and emails, especially when they first heard the governor say that there could be 7,500 people in the stadium. Right away, I started getting messages like, “Do you need me?” Even though the governor said that, the Big Ten has other ideas. It was hard to tell those guys and girls—they’re so loyal and so dedicated—that we’re not able to use them. And of course, I can’t work there; nobody’s going to work. Many of them go back to the days when you’d walk in as an usher and they’d hand you a $5 bill and two hot dogs…and that was your pay. It’s gotten a little better since then, but they’re only in it because they love Penn State football.
Are there some special joys in your typical Beaver Stadium experience that you will miss this year?
Quici: Well, there are families that see this as a big part of their lives. And they’re not going to experience that this year. My wife’s normally there; my son’s there (both are ushers). My best friends are there. Those are times that you’ll never forget, special times.
So many families are there together in the stands, and they’ll bring their son or daughter down to the end zone to get their picture taken with the Nittany Lion. They’re so excited to be there and to do that—to get their picture taken with the Lion or the cheerleaders or the Blue Band or the Big Uglies.
And when the Blue Band starts playing the Alma Mater… For some people that may not be emotional. But for me, as a Penn State grad, well, I’ve never told anyone how I feel when I’m seeing that and hearing that.
Maybe you wouldn’t mind telling me. How do you feel when you’re standing there during the Alma Mater?
Quici: First of all, I’m very proud. And I’m just very happy that I had the opportunity to go to Penn State for four years, and I feel grateful for that. I don’t take it for granted.
Now, thinking more broadly, you’ve dealt with so many cancellations this year. The Hall of Fame dinner, Spikes baseball, so many other events. What has been the biggest disappointment from all these cancellations or postponements?
Quici: It’s not just one event, but it’s the big picture of not being able to be with friends. Like seeing our friends at the Spikes games. You miss those people. Another event was Little League baseball, the Little League World Series in Williamsport. That’s always a special time. My wife and I both have a great time there, and this might have been the first year when my grandson (Cayden is 6) would have been old enough to enjoy it.
It seems like everything about sports that you mention goes back to friendships. How have sports helped to connect you to people?
Quici: Well, you know, people in the sports world share a common bond. You can have a conversation and you’re using language that an outsider might not understand when you’re talking about things on the field or in the gym. And it’s just so much fun to share positive memories from maybe high school or even playground days. I had a group of girls from my 1987 softball team, and our big saying that year was “Thanks for the memories.” Whether it’s a boys’ sport, a girls’ sport, being in the band or being a cheerleader, the memories that you make last forever. No disease can take those away from you.
Bucky Quici enjoys camaraderie with his sports-related friends including Mark McFall, the head usher for Beaver Stadium’s student section.
How about the postponement of the Centre County Sports Hall of Fame banquet? You’re the president of the board of directors, and this year you were going to be inducted as an honoree in the hall. So I guess the postponement was a double blow?
Quici: Yeah, that was tough. We took a redshirt this year; it’s like this year never happened for us with the Hall of Fame. We’re going to have our induction ceremony and dinner in early November of next year. And that’s going to be for the class of 2020. But because there won’t be a new election before then, I guess it could also be considered as the class of 2021.
Did it feel a little awkward to be serving as the president when you were chosen to become an honoree?
Quici: Yes, to be honest with you. I was nominated by someone, and so was the president before me, Ron Pifer (former wrestling champion at Bellefonte High School and Penn State; former principal and coach at State High). I told the board that if they didn’t feel this was the right thing, then I wouldn’t accept the nomination. Ron and I stayed out of the meeting when it was discussed, but all the board members agreed that there was no reason that we should be held back. And the members voted by secret ballot.
So tell me more about how you’ve dealt with the blight of sports we’ve experienced this year. Hardly any games or events were held until late this summer, and now we see things on TV but with nobody in the stadiums.
Quici: It feels very empty. You know, the golf courses were closed for a while and then when they opened you had to take your own cart and you couldn’t even touch the pin. All of that was tough for me because I’m an avid golfer. I’m a terrible golfer but still an avid golfer because that’s another time for me to be with my friends.
The spring sports in high school were shut down—no baseball, no softball, no track and field. I felt bad about it, but I couldn’t imagine how the coaches, parents and kids felt. Especially the seniors in high school. My heart goes out to them. Some of them may play a sport in college, but many of them were playing their last game when they took the field in the spring of 2019 and they didn’t even know it. That’s just heartbreaking.
Yeah, it has been an empty feeling. But I also realize you can take the sports thing a little too far. When I found myself watching a corn hole tournament on TV at two o’clock in the morning, I decided that maybe there’s something wrong with that.
Has there been a change in your perspective on the role of sports in life?
Quici: Well, I just feel that this is something that’s been a part of my life forever. I wasn’t ever a great athlete, but I don’t know what I would have done without sports—especially coaching. I guess maybe I’m more grateful now, and I don’t take things like sports for granted as much.
Has Terri taken advantage of your extra free time to work on any projects?
Quici: Actually, we have done some cleaning. We’ve cleaned out some closets and especially some t-shirts which are hard for me to part with. She’s tugging on one sleeve and I’m tugging on the other to put it back in the closet. But I think we’ve taken 27 bags of clothing to the Faith Centre, so we’re cleaning things out.
I began this conversation by asking you how you’ll feel while watching Penn State’s first home football game on TV. How about telling me how you think you’ll feel at next year’s home opener—assuming everyone will be allowed into the stadium?
Quici: I think it’s going to be amazing. I don’t think we can even comprehend what that’s going to be like. It’s emotional now with us not having the chance to be there. I think it’s going to be equally or more emotional when everybody’s able to get back together again. And I’m going to appreciate the people more than ever.