Paternoville: More Than Just Tickets and Tents
On a quiet Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. (Wednesday, September 1, the Wednesday before the Youngstown State game, to be exact), the battlefield known as Beaver was completely deserted, as students across campus hid from the humid summer heat in their air conditioned dorm rooms.
But as the moon slowly rose over the campus, casting threatening-looking shadows around the stadium’s student entrance, Gate A, two young men sauntered confidently up to the gate with collapsible camping chairs in hand, their laughter echoing off the cold, steel outer-walls of the arena.
With three days left before the first Penn State football game of the 2010 season, Alex Cohen and Thomas Boroch were the first to arrive to Paternoville, the aptly named student campsite founded in 2005 in honor of head football coach, Joe Paterno. At Paternoville, die-hard fans sleep outside Gate A anywhere from three to five days prior to game day in hopes of being the first in line to get front row tickets.
It should come as no surprise that Cohen, a senior, and Boroch, a fifth-year senior, have camped outside Gate A every game, every year since arriving to the University Park campus – Cohen is the current president of the Paternoville Coordination Committee (PCC); Boroch is his predecessor by a few years.
“This is our fraternity,” said Cohen, gesturing towards the stadium with an open hand.
“We’re a close-knit family. I’ve met my best friends here. So when I look back on Penn State, it will be Paternoville. We’ll be going to games until we’re 70.”
He looked longingly at the front gate, as if remembering fond memories of past battles won. Boroch clearly shared the sentiment as he followed Cohen’s gaze across the empty sidewalk that would soon be filled with college students and camping tents. A dozen yards ahead of them sat the chain-linked fence of Gate A. The fence that separated them from history.
As the first stars began to sprinkle the sky, the two men reminisced about their favorite memories at Paternoville. For Cohen, it includes watching an entire game barefoot.
“Rushing into the Notre Dame game, I was in flip flops and I lost them immediately. It was either bend down and get my shoes or get my ticket,” Cohen said.
Clearly an easy choice for any die-hard Penn State fan.
At the same game earlier that day, bored campers waiting for the stadium to open took advantage of discarded Diet Pepsi Max bottles (delivered by Penn State Housing Services, but that had gone bad by sitting in 100 degree heat) and shook them violently, launching them into the crowd. Last year, they added dry ice to the mix, and Cohen swears the bottles made it all the way to the sidewalk.
Not all their memories are created at Paternoville though – some of the memories are simply created with the friends they met there.
Cohen was driving back from the 2007 Alamo Bowl game with a group of Paternoville campers, and in an effort to entertain themselves on the 30+ hour car drive, they began a game of “padiddle,” a car game where the last person to notice a car’s broken headlight has to remove an article of clothing. Kind of like strip poker, but without the messiness of cards.
“By the end of it, let’s just say the whole car was naked,” said Cohen, laughing and throwing his hands up in front of him as if to defend himself from any incoming sarcastic retorts.
“Ironically though, there were two girls in the car and five guys, and yet I was the first one naked.” Somehow, we’re not surprised. He gives the impression that he likes to party, but he assures us he knows his place as president of Paternoville, and that he does not condone drinking at the camp.
“We try to enforce it as ‘Just don’t be an idiot.’ Don’t be standing on the top of Gate A, holding a handle and singing fight songs,” said Cohen.
Boroch has had his fair share of student drinking difficulties during his reign as well, but he tries to remember that they are all in the same boat.
“It’s so hard because you don’t want to barge into somebody’s tent and be like, ‘Listen, what are you doing?’,” Boroch said. “We’re not here to be their mom and dad.”
Regardless, Cohen takes his job seriously as president, fielding dozens of phone calls and emails each week, asking to be interviewed for various publications.
“People think it’s exciting because you get to see your name in the paper,” said Cohen, with a tone in his voice that suggested otherwise.
Though Cohen is always happy to talk to anyone who wants to speak with him, it can still be draining: he spends at least two hours a day on the phone. Boroch nods in the background, adding that for Cohen, it’s actually useful practice for his major, sports marketing.
Despite his constant hard work, Cohen attributes much of the greatness of Paternoville to Boroch.
“I don’t want it to seem like I’m kissing his ass, but Tom really paved the way for Paternoville. For two years, [he] really got this place organized,” said Cohen.
“Thanks dude,” said Boroch, looking down at the ground and pretending to blush.
“No problem dude. I love you man.”
“I love you too dude.” Could this be a blossoming bromance?
“We’re straight by the way,” Cohen added quickly with an uneasy laugh.
An hour or so later, as more stars gathered and began to wink down at them outside Gate A, another student made his way towards the fence. Dan Saxton, the public relations chair of the PCC, pulled up his own camping chair and plopped down between Cohen and Boroch.
With less than an hour to go before students could register their camping spots online, Saxton opened his laptop, casting a harsh, dramatic light on the dimly lit sidewalk. For normal games like the one against Kent State, the PCC expects around 100 people, but last year they had 350 people for the first game.
“We have no idea what is going to happen tonight,” said Cohen. “Right now is the calm before the storm.” With only 144 front-row seats and no idea how many student groups will register, the tension drips from the humid summer air like morning dew from a blade of grass.
In the past, Paternoville was always first-come, first-serve at the actual campsite, but in an effort to make it more fair, the PCC has instituted a first-come, first-serve model through the use of an online registration. An unbiased “judge,” if you will.
“It’s a very delicate situation, balancing loyalty and fairness. You have people that come out each week and camp out, and they do have a fair argument when they say, ‘Why shouldn’t I get a front row seat over someone who’s just showing up for the first time?’,” said Boroch.
“But at the end of the day, public opinion matters a lot, and the best way to keep public opinion in your favor is to do the fair thing and please the public.”
Sometimes, it even means including a woman in a predominantly male organization.
“We’re an equal opportunity employer,” said Boroch, causing Cohen to interrupt after laughing heartily.
“I’ll tell you one thing though. The girls who camp out know their shit.” said Cohen passionately.
“There are some girls who camp out that know more [about football] than I would say some of the guys who camp out.”
With co-eds sleeping in such a small space, scandalous things are bound to happen, right?
“Of course!” shouts Boroch enthusiastically. “It’s like a little Real World show. We joke that someday, there will be a shirt that says ‘I was conceived at Paternoville.’”
“In all seriousness, there are way more tents than can easily be covered at any time [by our four executive officers]. We can only regulate so much,” said Saxton.
As the night wore on and dozens of students began to arrive, we start to understand what Saxton means. Paternoville quickly began to fill up with tents (some the size of closets, others the size of bedrooms), sleeping bags fit for a winter environment despite the summer air, and the kind of food that dentists frown upon.
It seems almost like a cult, as if the Penn State students have been drinking too much Kool-Aid. But Cohen promises us that the students flocking to the campsite are completely normal.
“Penn State football is a religion,” said Cohen.
“This is our church,” he continued, nodding towards Beaver Stadium.
“Joe Pa is god,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“And we are the cardinals that oversee prayer services that go on up here,” he added, pointing towards the several dozen students waiting for the call to pitch their tents.
According to University rules, students are not allowed to set up tents prior to 12:01 Thursday morning. But as the clock slowly turned from 11:59 to 12:00, students stood up and stretched their legs, taking their places at the corners of their tents.
And then the call went out.