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Nittany And Me: First-Ever Blue Sapphire Honors Family With Children’s Book

For authors around the world, publishing their first book is a dream come true. 

For Class of 1982 alum Lori Bowers Uhazie, this same accomplishment means even more. It’s a celebration of her family and her alma mater, two concepts remarkably intertwined for this alum.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, is this really ever gonna come to be?’” Uhazie said. “But I really kept at it, in the hopes that someday I’d be a grandma, and I would have this book for my grandchildren.”

In 1978, Uhazie became the first ever feature twirler to bear the title of Blue Sapphire, and she met her husband David, the president of the Blue Band at the time. Together, they had two sons, who are now also partnered with Penn Staters. They even named their eldest son to carry the initials of “P.S.U.” with pride.

Courtesy of Lori Bowers Uhazie

With the official release of “Nittany and Me” in early June, Uhazie’s dream became a reality in the nick of time. Just five days earlier, the author’s grandson was born and named in the family tradition to also become a “P.S.U.” 

“And then, that happened!” Uhazie said. “He received my first autographed copy of the book.”

While uniquely meaningful to the Uhazie family, “Nittany and Me” has all the makings of a classic. Featuring a young Penn Stater and her pet greyhound, Nittany, the story takes readers on a journey of adventure across University Park. 

Traveling through traditions, no detail is missed as the playful pet strives to join in on the blue-and-white fun. From stealing a lick of Berkey Creamery ice cream to marching alongside the Blue Band, Nittany is just your average Penn State pup and is bound to become a beloved pillar of Dear Old State. 

The character was inspired by real-life Lockett, a retired racing greyhound and pet of Uhazie’s eldest son, Patrick. 

“He sent me a photo of himself and this greyhound sitting in a playground tower overlooking children below playing,” Uhazie said. “And my immediate reaction was, ‘Wow, that looks like the cover of a children’s book.’” 

With his brindle-colored coat and kind eyes, Lockett bears an uncanny resemblance to the Nittany Lion in Uhazie’s creative eye. 

“And so the wheels got turning, and I was thinking, ‘This dog is looking at the children below playing as if he wants to do what they are doing…with the combination of his coat looking like the Nittany Lion… In my mind, I see this dog trying to twirl the baton or do the drum major flip,” Uhazie said.

To bring her vision to life, Uhazie took some photos of Lockett to share with illustrator Amelina Jones, which created some fun memories for the family. 

“We would hold a snack in the air, and he would jump and grab it, and then we used that for the volleyball page,” Uhazie said. “It was neat to have the dog actually be involved in getting the illustrations done.” 

Much like the duo’s journey in “Nittany and Me,” it’s no surprise that passion led Uhazie home to Happy Valley. Uhazie’s own story is a piece of Penn State history and can easily be recalled by the first-ever Blue Sapphire as if it happened yesterday.

“I came along in ‘78, and our band director at the time, Dr. Deihl, said, ‘We want to come up with a special name for you, like the Purdue Golden Girl,’” Uhazie said. “He came up with the name Star Sapphire.”

Unrecognizable by today’s audience, the title Star Sapphire lasted for a only few football games. A curious fan soon reached out to explain that sapphires come in a variety of colors.

“And so, in the middle of the freshman year, they changed my title to Blue Sapphire,” Uhazie said. “So, I’m the only ever Star Sapphire, and the first one to have the Blue Sapphire title.”

Decades later, Uhazie vividly remembers the feeling of taking the field for the first time in 1978. Coming to campus from Leesport, Pennsylvania, Uhazie was amazed and energized by the vibrant atmosphere of Beaver Stadium. 

“Once I got out there… it was all a blur to me. I just did my thing, and it was like my heart was racing when I first went out, and I didn’t hear anything after that,” Uhazie said. “It’s hard to explain it. I had never seen so many people in my life, and I just wanted to catch the baton.”

While Uhazie earned her iconic role in the end, her talent almost slipped through the hands of fate. Twirling in the gym of her local high school, Uhazie was spotted by a student teacher from Penn State who urged her to audition for the role. 

“Fortunately, if not for that student teacher from Penn State seeing me practice in the gym after school one day, it would never have occurred to me that I could go to college,” Uhazie said. “We were a very blue-collar family who didn’t have much. Nobody talked about college.”

Dedicated to giving back, Uhazie and her husband honor their roots and remain committed to the Blue Band. In the time since they twirled and marched for Penn State, they have worked to establish various scholarships including the 2016 Blue Band Legacy Fund and the 2004 Feature Twirler Scholarship. 

“Baton twirlers at the highest level, which is what we want to have at Penn State, do invest a lot of money in training, travel, and costumes,” Uhazie said. “So by the time you get to college, you’ve already put in a lot of money.” 

Recognizing the financial strain of pursuing excellence, the Uhazies established the scholarship to ensure Penn State can attract and retain the world’s best talent.

“Many of the big universities were giving scholarships, so we established a scholarship to make sure we attracted the best of the best, and we have been getting the best of the best,” Uhazie said. “Probably our last five or so Blue Sapphires have been world champions.”

Establishing a clear legacy, Uhazie is still connected with many fellow Blue Sapphires today. With Penn State never far from heart or mind, the author recalled a favorite memory: twirling alongside the late Norm Constantine, a dear friend and former Nittany Lion. 

Courtesy of Lori Bowers Uhazie

“When the students saw what was starting to happen, they just erupted and the whole student section went absolutely crazy,” Uhazie said. “It was one of the greatest moments, performing with him in Beaver Stadium, because it was so much fun.”

Reflecting on a lifetime of Penn State pride, Uhazie is thrilled to pass on traditions to the next generation through “Nittany and Me.” Differentiating the work from other children’s books, the text also includes a glossary of university jargon and allows kids of all ages to put together the pieces of history. 

“I’m really proud of that part because it can be a real learning experience, so depending on the age of the child, the child can learn more as they grow,” Uhazie said. “I love how it’s teaching the traditions, and it’s probably what I’m most proud of about the book.”

Proud as always of blue and white traditions, Uhazie looks forward to starting one of her own soon: Reading “Nittany and Me” and making lasting memories with her grandchild.

“The thing that powered me through it and made me really commit to it was the hopes that one day I might have a grandchild, and it would be really cool if their grandma had her own special book made,” Uhazie said. “That makes it extra super special.”

“Nittany and Me” can be found at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Mascot Books.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior 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, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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