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Warm Welcoming For Penn Staters in Panama City

Even over 1,000 miles away, Penn State was extremely well represented in Panama City last week. I wore a Penn State shirt almost every day of spring break and I ran into fellow Nittany Lions everywhere I went. Many students from other schools said they saw more students from Penn State than from any other college. We really are everywhere.

Predominantly, the people I encountered from other schools were interested in talking about the past year at Penn State and what it was like to be a student there. A lot of them offered their sympathies, saying things like, “It’s unfair what you guys had to go through because of one person.” Almost everyone was very understanding and showed a lot of respect toward Penn State, though the occasional passer-by felt it was appropriate to throw out a Sandusky joke.

Although I only ran into a small handful of people who had anything negative to say about PSU, and the group I went to Panama City with adopted as our motto the phrase, “Haters gonna hate, Staters gonna State,” after a few kids in a passing car felt obliged to shed their two cents on the scandal. I won’t repeat what they said–you’re welcome. I do realize “state” in that context isn’t a verb, but you have to admit, it’s pretty catchy. I guess it’s just a hipper way of saying “Keep calm and fight on.” I like my way better.

Here are a few of my Penn-State related stories from the week:

  • The first thing we did when we got to the beach was hang a Penn State flag from our balcony, which was on the ninth floor, beachfront. Only one other school on our side of the hotel bothered to put a flag up and it was that of Miami of Ohio; go figure right? Over the course of the week, dozens of people pointed up at us and cheered or blared out a “We are” chant.
  • My second night in Panama City, five of us went to Dayglow, which was incredible. I wore one of my Penn State white-out shirts, obviously. A few hours in, I went outside to get some fresh air and I heard the unmistakable sound of a “We are” chant. I saw about ten kids jumping up and down chanting at the top of their lungs, I proceeded to jump into the middle of their circle and make it that much louder. They were very receptive. After we finished, I looked around and about a hundred people had stopped what they were doing and were staring at us. It was awesome.
  • During the final hour of DayGlow, I was getting a little worn out. Needless to say, I went hard in the paint. I went outside again and got a drink while striking up a conversation with a few kids from Michigan State. They had nothing but positive things to say about Penn State. They praised our university and praised JoePa, saying how sad they were to see things turn out how they did. As I was leaving, one Spartan held his drink in the air and toasted: “To JoePa, the greatest coach of all-time,” as all of his friends joined in for a cheers. I was overwhelmed, thanking them for the support. Michigan State will forever be my second favorite Big Ten school. Also, they might hate Michigan and Ohio State more than we do. Major bonus points.
  • We went to Club LaVela for an evening, which is the biggest night club in the U.S. with a capacity of about 6,000. The place was absolutely packed and we paid a $25 cover charge just to get in. After a few hours perusing through the 11 different theme rooms and 48 bar stations, we posted up right next to the bar by the main dance floor. It just so happened that a group of eight fellow Penn Staters were there as well. We started talking, or at least trying to, over the pulsating house music. But within minutes a huge group of people walked up next to us at the bar and I noticed a Penn State logo on one of the kid’s shirts. It turned out they all went to Penn State and there were about 12 of them. At that point there were roughly 25 people at a random bar station in America’s biggest night club and all of us went to PSU. Talk about squad deep.
  • One night I found myself a few miles from my hotel and I had only $3 in cash on me. Cabs were a bit more expensive than that, unless you had ten friends with you. The cheapest ride I found was $10 and the man was just not hearing my bargaining. As he was about to close the door, he noticed I had a Penn State shirt on underneath my flannel and told me to climb in. It turned out that the cabbie went to Alabama back in the day and has had several relatives go to Penn State. He even had the sketch of Bear Byrant with his arm around JoePa in Heaven on his phone. He sang JoePa’s praises the whole way to my hotel and let’s just say he’s not the BOT’s biggest fan. When he dropped me off and I went to give him my $3; he told me to keep it.
  • One night we went to a bar called Sharkies and no it was not at all like the Sharkies you’re thinking of. It was half inside and half outside, on the beach. At one point during our time on the dance floor, the DJ played Zombie Nation. As soon as the song started, me and the seven friends I went with looked at each other and grinned simultaneously. As we chanted as loud as humanly possible, everyone in the bar could hear exactly what we were saying. People even joined our makeshift mosh-pit and chanted along with us. We stole the show.
  • While driving home through the fine state of Alabama, we passed a car of girls with a California plate and Penn State decals. We beeped the horn until we got their attention and once the windows were rolled down, we all shared a quality “We are” chant with our cars side-by-side. In retrospect it probably wasn’t the safest thing in the world but it was a bright spot in a 19-hour car ride.

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