We see it each week; the signature blue “S” framed in white has been a Beaver Stadium staple for roughly 15 years. But what goes into creating one of the most coveted areas to sit in the student section on Saturday?
The S-Zone as we know it today has been facilitated by the Lion Ambassadors since 1998, though the section originated as students holding colored card-blocks to create the logo. According to Andrew Coleman, executive vice president of Lion Ambassadors, the earliest S-Zone shirts were pinnie-style tank tops that LAmbs would collect and recycle between games (after washing, of course).
In the 15 years since, the section has developed and flourished under the Lion Ambassadors’ and Alumni Association’s leadership. In 2004, a corporate sponsor was acquired that paved the way for the free shirts many hope to snag during each home game, though the shirts have been completely funded by the Alumni Association for the past two years. 2006 marked the first instance of a white “S” on a blue background, a change Coleman attributes to a white out.
While most current students are accustomed to seeing the “S” directly behind the field goal in the south end zone, this section has only been the S-Zone’s home since the 2011 football season. Prior to this, the S-Zone could be found near the 50-yard-line. Before the entire student section shifted and sections weren’t separated by class, this section was reserved for juniors and seniors.
In its current location, the S-Zone accounts for 800 seats. Each week, a group of volunteers within Lion Ambassadors sort the shirts and coordinating shakers prior to the game. Following the Alma Mater, the shirts are distributed and the “S” takes its place among the Beaver Stadium crowd.
Throughout the S-Zone’s existence, various changes have taken place for special occasions. The most familiar of these changes is the black and pink S-Zone that has become a Homecoming tradition. First created in time for Homecoming 2008, the nod to Penn State’s original colors returned for 2009. However, blue and white returned for Homecoming 2010 although the “S” was replaced by a blue paw print.
“Since then we’ve stuck with the Pink and Black Homecoming S-Zone,” said Coleman. “We [enjoy]the idea of taking Penn State back to its roots each Homecoming game.”
In addition to color changes, neighbor zones in the section beside the S-Zone aren’t as common but have occurred during the section’s history. Most recently, a gold ribbon symbolizing pediatric cancer could be seen next to the “S” for last Saturday’s game against Illinois, which was also this season’s THON game.
Coleman said that all changes require approval and coordination with the Alumni Association and that plans for the gold ribbon began during the summer. The gold ribbon was not the first ribbon to take its place alongside the “S.” In 2011, a blue ribbon was created in honor of the first Blue Out during that season’s game against Nebraska in honor of child abuse prevention.
If you’ve never been a part of the S-Zone, there’s no trick or secret to being a part of it. The gate is typically marked “S-Zone,” so there isn’t a guessing game. However, in order to do your best to guarantee you won’t miss the free shirt cut-off by a few rows, it’s best to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before kick-off.