Meet Penn State’s Smallest (Yet Biggest) Fans
Though they may not graduate from Penn State until 2029 and 2031 respectively, brother and sister Cole and Kara Rhinehart complete the Happy Valley game day experience. In the process, the duo clad in Penn State apparel managed to steal fans’ hearts.
10-year old Cole started dressing up in a miniature lion outfit and serving as the Little Lion at home games for various sporting events in 2014 when he made his Beaver Stadium debut in a skit with the Nittany Lion and Mike the Mailman. Following in her older brother’s footsteps, seven-year old Kara began wearing a Penn State cheerleading uniform and now cheers on the sidelines alongside the varsity cheerleading team.
“I always wanted my kids to be Nittany Lions fans and to be Penn State proud,” their father Greg, a 1993 Penn State graduate, said. “I never dreamed that I would be this successful, though.”
“They had always had their eyes on the Lion and the cheerleaders, even before they knew what the outcome of the game meant, and it kind of all just grew from there,” he said.
Beyond the excitement of cheering in front of 107,000 people, Cole and Kara both had truly unique experiences in the Penn State community few students can rival.
The siblings have met Penn State icons like James Franklin, Cael Sanderson, Franco Harris, Sue Paterno, and their mutual favorite player on this year’s football team, Saquon Barkley, who they met last summer while taking a personal tour of the Lasch Building. Saquon now greets them before every home game.
Two years ago before the White Out double overtime loss to Ohio State, Cole impressed a crowd at a tailgate and tallied 102 one-armed pushups, even catching the attention of Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer’s wife, who insisted she take a photo with him. A devout fan, Cole refused to be pictured with someone from Ohio State. After some convincing and deceiving from his parents, he eventually took the picture.
“They tricked me and I’m not still not very happy about it,” he said.
Another sport the siblings love is hockey. This season, Cole will have an additional responsibility in the Roar Zone. After the student who dressed up as Thor and banged on the glass with a hammer at home games attended his last game at the Pegula Ice Arena last year, he gave Cole his hammer and advised him to carry on the tradition, which Cole did for the first time Thursday against St. Lawrence.
Cole and Kara not only attended THON the last two years, but were also able to go on the floor with the cheerleading team and football players to experience the event in an extraordinary way. At last year’s THON, a picture of Kara went viral when Khloe Kardashian tweeted it out to her 19 million followers, asking them to make a donation #FTK.
— Khloé (@khloekardashian) February 21, 2016
In preparation for the THON 2017, the siblings are planning their own fundraiser to put their talents and passion for Penn State toward a good cause.
“We wanted to show [Cole and Kara] that there is more to Penn State than just athletics,” Greg said. “It was important for them to realize the meaning of THON and how special it is to all Penn Staters.”
With everything the siblings are able to do at such young ages, their family is grateful for the opportunities that the Penn State community gives them.
“They’re young kids so they’re going to have their shy moments, but the Lion, the cheerleaders, and the students really bring out the best in them and we as a family are cherishing all these great memories,” Greg said. “We hope that during their teenage years that we can come up with something that they can do to give back to Penn State. This will hopefully fill the time between being the Little Lion and Little Cheerleader and when they ultimately reach their goals of becoming Penn State students.”
Even though they’ve experienced so much of Penn State already, both Rhinehart children have their eyes on the future: enrolling at the school they love.
Kara dreams of one day donning an official blue and white cheerleading uniform. Likewise, Cole aspires to be the actual Nittany Lion when he is older; however, he recognizes the path is more than just practicing his one-armed pushups.
“That’s definitely my goal to be the Lion,” he said. “But I’m worried about getting into Penn State first.”
Considering how dedicated he and his sister are to studying film of the Lion and cheerleaders on their mom’s iPad, doing well in school shouldn’t be an issue for Cole and Kara. They’ll also have a wealth of stories to tell when they answer the age-old admissions question about why they are fit to succeed at Penn State.