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Goodman Shaffer: Community pride part of college camaraderie

Commentary

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium may be home to the “Greatest Show in College Football,” but recent weeks have reminded us why we love college football and college athletics in general, and it’s not just for the entertainment and excitement we enjoy between the lines.

The University of Tennessee rallied around a young Vols fan this week, turning an incident of bullying into a story of triumph. A fourth-grader in Florida decided to create his own orange “UT” T-shirt for school colors day, using a piece of notebook paper, hand-drawn graphics and some safety pins.

When he was ridiculed for his artwork, the boy’s teacher reached out on Facebook, looking for a contact at the university who might be able to lift her student’s spirits.

Rocky Top responded by sending the boy lots of official Volunteers gear; but then they went so much further: producing their own T-shirts featuring the student’s artwork and selling more than 50,000 of them, with proceeds going to an anti-bullying charity.

The young fan received messages from the UT mascot, a show of camaraderie from the university band and even the bursar’s office, which added a four-year scholarship, provided he meets the admissions requirements for the class of 2032. Surely, far more than UT fans will be wearing orange across the country as a sign of solidarity.

Closer to home, Nittany Nation showed their support for the brutally injured Buffalo punter, Evan Finegan, who tweeted his thanks to the Penn State community for “taking me in as their own” after suffering a severely broken leg in the game earlier this month.

He shared a photo of Coach Franklin in his hospital room, along with some of the players who visited their opponent in the hospital. And Finegan got a shout-out of his own from former Penn State cornerback, Adam Taliaferro, who received similar support from the Ohio State community and others around the nation after his career-ending spinal injury in 2000.

I remember seeing football teams and other student groups sharing photos of their “43” formations, Taliaferro’s number, sharing thoughts and prayers during his miraculous recovery.

Penn State swimmer, Nikolette Nolte was showered with love and support in the Twitter-sphere from other Nittany Lion teams as well as swim teams across the country, as she courageously battled cancer.

And Nittany Nation traded in their blue and white for maroon and orange for the 2007 spring game in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting.

These examples, and so many more, remind us that college football (and certainly college athletics in general) are about way more than wins and losses, traditions and rivalries.

Beyond the competition is a camaraderie, and a community that in tough times rises up to share encouragement, support and hope.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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