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Men's Lacrosse Celebrates 100th Anniversary Season

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Penn State men's lacrosse team took the field this season; they were playing for far more than themselves. They were playing for the legacy that built the longstanding tradition of Penn State lacrosse and the 100 years that came before them.

8812359.jpegThe Varsity 'S' Club spent months creating an event that recognized the thousands of alumni that came before this season. Saturday's celebration of the 100th year of Penn State lacrosse started with a tailgate two hours before the game. Then at 1 p.m. the 13th ranked Nittany Lions took on 12th ranked Drexel with a half-time recognition, followed by a post-game reception and dinner for all to enjoy.

To start off the morning with team camaraderie, the lacrosse players and coaches had a team breakfast. Attending the breakfast was Scott McKeon from the class of 1987 who hoped to motivate the players for a win.  

"I just told them how proud we are of this team rebounding from the Notre Dame loss and now they've won five in a row," McKeon said. "I told them how proud we are as alumni that they've learned how to win. After I spoke, Jeff [Tambroni] used the word team and team doesn't stop at the lacrosse players. It extends to the alumni family and friends who are here to celebrate this moment and they really look at it as their future. Someday they will be doing what we're doing as alumni."

To start off the 100th season anniversary, a tailgate was set up for alumni ranging from the 1950s all the way to 2012 who had the chance to see their teammates, to meet those who came before them and to connect with those who came after them.

From the 1950s decade, Chip Henderson played lacrosse from 1956-1959 and rarely has the opportunity to reconnect with some of his teammates or other alumni. He enjoyed how well this event was planned to honor the legacy.

"It's a great idea and I feel so far it has been extremely well orchestrated," Henderson said. "We've reflected on games, the university automobiles, the conditions we had to practice in and how much it has changed. The technology of the equipment has vastly improved with synthetic materials versus the wood sticks we played with."

A graduate of the 1964 class and a captain for the Nittany Lions, Vin Tedesco spent the day remembering his college days and celebrating how far the sport of lacrosse has come over the years.  

"It's one of the highlights of my life to be alive for the 100th anniversary and to be back celebrating how lucky we are to play the sport we love for the university we love," Tedesco said. "It just makes you feel good to see all these guys and remember them as young men and see the great lives they've led. You just can't beat that."

From the class of 1975, Tom Rogers cherished the opportunity to see teammates he hasn't seen in years and to witness a program on the rise.

"Being a part of this is hard to put into words," Rogers said. "It's one thing to know that a program has been around for 100 years, but at half time the current players will actually see players going back to the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's and see people who have played here before they were even born. It heightens that awareness of longevity of the program. It shows a real tradition and they're the next generation."

Playing from 1983-1987, Tony Gerrato came back this weekend not only as a proud alumnus, but also as a parent of a current player, sophomore Bryan Gerrato.

"It makes you get pretty emotional that something has been around this long and you've been a part of it and having my son be a part of the next generation," Tony Gerrato said. "My brother also played here so our families have been extremely connected to the program."

From the 90s decade, Paul Fisher came excited not only to see his past teammates, but also to celebrate how far the program has come in a short amount of time.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to see old friends, meet their wives and children as well as enjoy the success of the current lacrosse program," Fisher said. "We all couldn't be prouder of where it is today."

Representing the class of 2000, Kevin Keenan brought his son with him to share the traditions within the Penn State family.

"This is such a tight knit, close family and after all of the events that have happened in the Penn State community, I'm so proud of these young men and their actions," Keenan said. "It's a tremendous honor to be back here. You're not an individual when you come up here. You're another link in the chain and when you're kids are up here, they see the great university, the great athletic department, the great program. They're the next link in the chain to carry on the tradition."

After the tailgate, the alumni found a spot in the stands to cheer on the players that will close out the first 100 years. Of those players, senior Drew Roper used the celebration as motivation to capitalize on another win for Penn State.

"It's an honor to play for the 100 years before us," Roper said. "These guys have built a legacy and it's extremely fitting to be a senior during the 100th year. We just played for all the alumni that came before us. We got a lot of momentum early and we tried to represent the legacy of the previous teams."

Defeating Drexel 13-6 gave all of the players, coaches, parents, alumni, and fans even more reason to celebrate. The final event of the day included another opportunity for alumni to see old friends in addition to meeting the current players and their parents.

With nearly 300 alumni back in town, everyone gathered in the Multisport Facility for a dinner and listened to speakers who gave the lacrosse family a closer look into the history of the program.

Starting the night off, sports broadcaster Steve Jones welcomed everyone and turned it over to Athletic Director Dave Joyner who was proud of the turnout and support the alumni gave to these players.

"I'm very proud of Penn State and what's going on and we're only just getting started," Joyner said. "With this whole 'one team' mantra, every coach is working together for the betterment of each sport and it's very exciting to me. I am very impressed with how many alumni are here and there's got to be at least 50 percent of the living alumni here."

After a short break to enjoy a dinner with families, Tedesco was next up, explaining the early years of lacrosse when it started at Penn State in 1913. Beginning the legacy that continues today was Walter Farley who coached for two years.

Dave Thiel, who was part of the class of 1965 and an All-American, followed Tedesco and shared the foundation that his father Nick Thiel built starting in 1935 and ending in 1956. Ernie Baer contributed by coaching in 1957 through 1961.

Dave Thiel explained that his father coached for 22 years, however it wasn't coaching back then - it was more of teaching since those who tried out did not know much about the sport. His father faced difficulties with different equipment that made the learning and playing much harder. World War II affected the program for five years as those who were drafted had to leave.

Continuing the tradition that Thiel helped established, came Dick Pencek. He was head coach during the 1962 season and 1965 through 1977. Pencek said with 26 kids all dressed in high numbers from football jersey hand-me-downs, he made it his mission to make the lacrosse team better.

As a part of the 1966 class and watching his father coach, Glenn Thiel took over for 33 years from 1978-2010 while Penn State was on the rise. He expressed that it was a pleasure for him to get back here and was glad to turn the program over to Jeff Tambroni.

Thiel mentioned that as a coach you always look to bring together great leaders, which led to some of his best teams. After just three years at Penn State, Thiel can already see that Tambroni's doing just that with the future of Penn State and the current players.

Tambroni was the final speaker of the night and addressed the current team and what is to come for the program based on what has come before them.

"We sit here to honor the past 100 years and it's amazing to see everything that Penn State has accomplished, but I would also like to recognize the modern players," Tambroni said. "These young men work so hard everyday to build upon the great tradition of Penn State lacrosse and I can tell you first hand we have a great deal of respect for everything you've done before us and the camaraderie that you've built."

Although Tambroni is not a graduate of Penn State, he's beginning to understand what alumni and his wife, who played field hockey for Penn State, mean when they say they are "Penn State proud".

"Not having gone to Penn State, but having played against them, you're outside that circle and have little to no experience or understanding of what that actually means," Tambroni said. "That's the common thread. It has nothing to do with the 480-something wins, nothing to do with an 8-4 record back in 1964. It's about the people, it's about the relationships, it's about the journey, and it's about the common thread that goes through every one of us now. I'm starting to realize the meaning of 'Penn State proud' and we have a lot to be proud of."

The evening ended with a commemorative 100th season video with pictures from different decades followed by footage of the current team. Serving to remind everyone of the many reasons there are so many "Penn State proud" players, parents, and alumni that came together to celebrate an outstanding 2013 season. 

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