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‘S’ Is For State: The Story Of Beaver Stadium’s S-Zone

With a lengthy 25 rows lined by 32 students each, the S-Zone is undoubtedly an iconic image of Penn State pride. Nestled in the center of the student section as a striking visual, the living landmark has hosted 800 students at each home football game since 1998 and an estimated 5,600 students over a typical season.

Visible from anywhere in Beaver Stadium, the symbol adds to the gameday experience of countless fans rain or shine, a live-action depiction of resilience, spirit, and teamwork. 

Yet, even though the S-Zone brings joy to so many, the feat is a direct result of leadership from just four students showing up for State alongside fellow members of their student organization, Lion Ambassadors, which is the Penn State Student Alumni Corps.

“If you talk to any Lion Ambassador, each of us is involved in different organizations on campus, but we all share a common love and passion for the university,” senior Matt McHugh said. “We want to give back to the university, and that is how we feel united here.” 

Headlining the projects sector of the organization, McHugh serves as executive vice president of Lion Ambassadors, overseeing a variety of events for the university. From Be A Part From the Start to Haunted Valley, Lion Ambassadors partners with sister organization the Blue and White Society, as well as collaborates with the Penn State Alumni Association, to serve Penn Staters far and wide.

“It’s a real honor to be in Lion Ambassadors,” McHugh said. “It’s a really unique opportunity to be a representative for the university and get to be involved in so many different facets of Penn State.”

Courtesy of Lion Ambassadors

Joined by S-Zone ad hocs Tristin Parker, Andrew Lapeire, and A.J. Carabello, McHugh leads a diverse team of Lion Ambassadors, maintaining blue and white tradition each step of the way for the next generation of students. 

“One of the main reasons why I joined was because I wanted to be closer to the Penn State community, and I wanted to learn more about my university,” Lapeire said. “This club did a really good job of educating me on the culture, the camaraderie, and all of the great reasons why I already loved Penn State.”

One of three touring organizations on campus, Lion Ambassadors adds to community culture through many distinguished honors, such as serving as liaisons to the president’s tailgate box and supplying both alumni and prospective student tours. 

“We show off our love for Penn State whether we have a project or are just walking around campus on a normal Tuesday,” Carabello said. “Hopefully, prospective students can feel what we feel, or hopefully want to feel what we feel, and say ‘Wow, I want to go to Penn State,’ after doing a tour.’”

Practicing pride in many endeavors, the group tackles the task of coordinating the S-Zone with the same passion, joining forces to complete a lengthy preparation process while also finding time for a bit of fun along the way.

“There’s so many inside moments that we just enjoy: the small things. We know how to make each other laugh and how to make each other smile,” Carabello said. “The moments and the memories that we have made here are just so special.”

Drawing upon deep-rooted values, the team of four has remained committed to the S-Zone project consistently from the summertime, planning the logistics of the formation, preparing physical materials, and rallying up student spirit to create an enriching experience for all.

But the job is far from finished there, and gameday demands on-the-go coordination and strategy to create the final project. Additionally, these four students then stand within the first row of the S-Zone at every home game, a physical representation of their loyalty to this project for the people.

Courtesy of Lion Ambassadors

Led by McHugh, Parker, Lapeire, and Carabello from the front row, students can enter the S-Zone through a specific entrance located in Gate A. From their student ticket for the game, individuals then have the opportunity to join the fun with a labeled S-Zone ticket and can expect a warm welcome and memorable experience with fellow Lion-loving Penn Staters.

“Really anybody can join,” Carabello said. “If you want to be a part of it, walk through and get that ticket.” 

Once in the zone, students are then given a free S-Zone t-shirt and coordinating shaker to maintain the shape, a tangible testament to the notion of no detail spared by the dedicated team of Lion Ambassadors working behind the scenes.

However, prior to what fans recognize today, the S-Zone looked quite different, with both pros and cons of the previous system explained by McHugh.

“It actually started as signs…. to hold up as the S-Zone,” McHugh said. “In 2004, we decided to switch it to shirts because it just makes it easier, [but] one advantage of the signs was that when it rains, you could just hold them up.” 

Courtesy of Lion Ambassadors

Rainy days aside, the current formation by shirt proves quite efficient for the group, transported to Beaver Stadium on Friday mornings by staff that includes Carabello.

McHugh, Parker, Lapeire, and Carabello then arrive three hours before kickoff to begin the intense process, dispersing materials in the correct order, organizing hundreds of students to form the physical ‘S,’ and engaging them throughout the entirety of the day despite what happens on the field.

Even under the pressure of holding down the fort in the enormous student section, Lion Ambassadors makes it happen with smiles on their faces, just as bright as the resulting S-Zone for all of Beaver Stadium to see. 

“My dad always says, ‘when you love what you’re doing, you never have to work a day in your life,’” Lapeire said. “That is really exemplified through our work with the S-Zone.” 

Happiest to serve in Happy Valley, the four students grew close throughout the process, treasuring each task as history written together and joy created for the community.

“Little moments through putting it together are my favorite,” Parker said. “Whenever people come into the stands with their tickets and they are like, “Am I in the S-Zone? Is this the S-Zone?’ and when they are really fired up about it, that just makes my day.” 

Quite literally built by the passion of Penn State students, the S-Zone also adapts to the current theme of Beaver Stadium. Originally standardized as a navy “S” against a white background, the symbol changes to an inverted form to accommodate the White Out and Stripe Out games and even shifts to original Penn State colors with a pink “S” and black background for Homecoming each year. 

Updating the S-Zone to celebrate special events, the team also collaborated with the THON Executive Committee to create a ribbon zone for the annual Penn State football THON game against Central Michigan.

Remembering memories from this energetic season, the S-Zone team recalled its first home game, a day especially memorable after the hectic coordination of preparation had finally settled down in the stands.

“My favorite moment was finally once all the shirts were handed out on gameday, and once I finally got reception back in Beaver Stadium,” Carabello said. “My parents were at the game, and my mom sent me a picture, and she was like, ‘It looks great.’”  

Unable to see that first, finished product clearly from his spot in the stands, Carabello explained the importance behind this story as an unforgettable, meaningful memory for life.

“I had seen a couple of pictures from some of our fellow Lion Ambassadors,” Carabello said. “But just my mom sending me that picture was really special to me.”

Aligned with the organization’s four core values of service, tradition, excellence, and pride, the true heart behind the S-Zone is unequivocally clear from these students, an undeniable tradition of care taken and love celebrated for the unified benefit of all.

“Within the S-zone, it’s bringing that sense of Penn State pride and unity to football every week,” McHugh said. “We get to put on this really cool opportunity where we come together as Penn State community and put on this giant ‘S’ to show our love for State, right where we all came together.”

Reflecting similar gratitude for the team and organization members behind the S-Zone, Parker synthesized a final humble message behind the tremendous task.

“It might be something small, but it’s pretty cool to see the ‘S,’” Parker said. “When everyone comes together with that pride, we can create something special.” 

Iconic by tradition and executed by perseverance, the S-Zone is clearly in good hands this season, passed down by generations of passionate Penn Staters for the glory of Dear Old State.

Courtesy of Lion Ambassadors

Led by this small but mighty team, the living legacy lasts by the people behind the project, and a true blue message rings just as clearly as the Victory Bell: While “S” may stand for “state,” State will always stand for spirit.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in marketing and psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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