By Matthew Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - While the weather was dark and cloudy Saturday morning prior to Penn State's homecoming football game vs. Northwestern, the mood could not have been brighter inside Medlar Field, where numerous former Penn State athletes congregated together at a tailgate put together by the Varsity 'S' Club.
The event, which lasted from 9 a.m. to noon, was attended by more than 350 former letter winners, including past and current Olympians.
One Olympian who returned for the tailgate was rower Natalie Dell (class of 2007), who recently won a bronze medal at the London Olympics in the quadruple sculls. Dell commented on how special it was to return to Penn State as an Olympian.
"The only way thing that can make going to the Olympics better besides representing the United States is to represent Penn State," said Dell. "It's great to be back."
The rest of the returning alumni shared Dell's sentiment on returning to their alma mater.
"When you come back to Penn State it's like being home," said Corrine Leparik (women's basketball-1978). "It's great to see some old friends at the tailgate."
For some in attendance, such as Marc Dinacci (men's soccer- 1994), returning to campus is a common practice.
"I come back most weekends and it's always fun to be back," said Dinacci. "I'm looking forward to seeing some familiar faces."
Others such as Richard Shank (bowling- 1980) were making their first trip to State College in many years.
"This is the first time I've been back in 18 years," said Shank. "I felt it was time to come back and show some support."
Many of the letter winners commented on how the support being shown for the university and the football team made the event even more special to be a part of.
"We've done this in past years but this year we have over double the amount of people we've ever had before," said Kelly Grimes (women's golf- 1979). "I think it has to do with how Penn State's really proud and we're all behind the One Team that (head coach) Bill O'Brien started."
Another aspect of the tailgate that many enjoyed was the chance to meet and converse with former athletes from other sports and generations.
"It's really fun to look around and talk to people and see when they were in school and the difference in time," said Lynne Hairston (gymnastics- 1986).
Though all enjoyed the tailgate, the most anticipated part of the day for many was the opportunity to walk on the field prior to the game and participate in the letter winners tunnel for the football team to run through.
"I am so excited," said Grimes. "I've been excited for three months since I found out we were going to be on the field.
Even some former football players couldn't contain their excitement about stepping on the field once more.
"It will be fun to be part of the tunnel," said Pete Cimino (football- 1960). "It's a great honor to be introduced in front of 107,000 of your closest friends."
Along with their excitement about the day's festivities, the letter winners continuously expressed their gratitude to the Varsity 'S' Club for putting the event together.
"It's an honor to be back here today at Penn State," said Jim Restauri (football- 1979). "I appreciate the invitation and it's good to know that your still a Penn Stater."