“We are Penn State”
The phrase “We are Penn State” is a central tenant in Penn Staters’ hearts. But how many of you out there know the story behind the phrase we’ve come to love so much? This story takes us back to the year 1946 and involves one of the greatest teams to ever don the Blue and White and take the field in Beaver Stadium.
Following the end of the second World War, thousands of veterans headed back to college to get an education and start their adult lives. They brought with them new views on the segregation of blacks and whites that still persisted throughout the United States. For coach Bob Higgins’ players, their views were about to be tested. For in 1945 Wally Triplett stepped off a bus on the corner of College and Allen and became one of the first African-American football players in Penn State history (Dave and Harry Alston being the first).
Wally’s experiences with the football team were similar to those of any player, he was treated equally as one of the guys. Off the football field and away from his teammates however, his experiences weren’t so friendly. He wasn’t allowed to live in the dormitories with the rest of the students, couldn’t get his haircut at the barber on Allen Street, and suspected some of his professors of racism (a fact that would later be confirmed). But Wally was determined to make the most of his time at Penn State.
Things were going well for Wally and the football team until a few weeks into the 1946 season. The team had originally been scheduled to play Miami University in Miami in late November. The team was excited to get away from the cold dreary State College weather and spend some time in Miami. Then came word that Miami would play Penn State under the condition that Penn State leave their African-American players at home (Wally and Dennie Hoggard).
The team had a meeting in Old Main a few weeks before the game to decide what to do. After much discussion, the team had a vote to decide whether or not to leave their black teammates home. The vote was overwhelming, Miami would play the entire Penn State team or they wouldn’t play them at all. Miami canceled the game.
The following season, Penn State was off to its best start ever and were looking forward to a bowl game. In 1947, there were very few bowl games in existence and almost all of them were in the still segregated Deep South. When asked about the possibility of leaving behind their black players to go to a bowl game, All-American lineman Steve Suhey said, “We are Penn State,” and that it was all or none. The team eventually made its way to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and ended up tying Southern Methodist University 13-13.
Check out the story in the November/December issue of “The Penn Stater” for more information below.
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