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By Mark Brumbaugh
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion offense retained its Lift for Life title as the unit once again rallied in the tug-of-war to claim the 14th annual head-to-head, strength and conditioning competition. The event benefitted cancer research and the rare disease community through Penn State's chapter of Uplifting Athletes.
With donation figures still to be finalized, the 2016 Uplifting Athletes fundraising efforts have lifted the 14-year total well above the $1 million mark. Fans can still make a donation to the Penn State Chapter and Lift for Life by visiting the Penn State Chapter fundraising site at give.upliftingathletes.org/psulift2016 or by sending a donation to PJ Mullen, Director of Player Development and Community Relations at 201 Lasch Football Building, University Park, PA 16802.
"It's crazy to think what started in a college dorm room with a couple guys has grown into what you see today and what it is nationwide, with more than 30 schools across the country holding similar events," said co-founder and Executive Director for Uplifting Athletes Scott Shirley.
The offense prevailed over the defense by a final score of 35-27 at the Penn State Lacrosse Field on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon. A crowd of over 2,500 fans cheered on the Nittany Lions rewarding top performances and strong efforts with cheers and applause. The upperclassmen participated in the head-to-head competition pitting the offense against the defense.
Fun was had for all as more than 100 participated in a Lift for Life Kids Clinic at the south end of the turf, which was run by the true freshmen simultaneously with the head-to-head competition.
"One of the reasons I came to Penn State was because all of the community relations the team has done," junior defensive end and Uplifting Athletes President Garrett Sickles said.
"Just to have this opportunity and being in the Penn State community and seeing the effect we have on everything, especially this benefit definitely feels good."
The exhibition featured seven rotations of one-on-one battles through six events before the tug of war. The event started with the 225-pound bench press and continued with the new 160-pound overhead press. The 480-pound "farmer" hold, obstacle course relay, tire flip and sled push/pull relay rounded out the slate. The final tally was based on head-to-head victories in each individual rep (one point each) and the tug of war competition (five points each).
The team had little difficulty getting up for the July intra-squad competition.
"It's always offense versus defense competition," said Sickels with a smile. "Every time they can be in front of an audience and cut t-shirts and make them look like tank-tops, everyone is all about it. It's not hard to motivate them."
The bench press featured a three-way tie for most individual reps as, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez, junior defensive tackle Parker Cothren and sophomore defensive end Colin Castagna all put up 28.
The "farmer" hold may have featured the least action of the events, but it brought out the enthusiasm and competitive spirit of the team the most. Holding 240 pounds in each hand, the object was to simply hang on longer than your opponent in the test of physical and mental strength.
The slightest shake or sign of weakness was pounced upon by the opposition right from the start, as aptly named junior safety Koa Farmer outlasted sophomore running back Saquon Barkley with help from some trash talk (in good fun) from his defensive teammates. Later, senior offensive lineman Derek Dowrey used a stone-faced glare to prevail by getting his opponent laughing before dropping the weights.
Barkley got his redemption later in the obstacle course relay, flipping an early deficit so quickly he coasted backwards over the finish line.
The defense held a narrow two-point lead after the first six events, but the offense prevailed in a back-and-forth battle in the tug of war. The offensive line grinded out a victory in the opening match, but the linebackers pulled the tight ends and running backs over the center line in mere seconds. A rematch was declared, but the linebackers still prevailed. The wide receivers edged the defensive backs and then the offensive freshmen clinched the victory after a promising start for the defensive freshmen was spoiled when they fell down.
The Nittany Lion offense won by one point with a tug of war victory at last year's event.
Following the workout, the Nittany Lions met with their loyal fans and signed autographs.
The 14th Lift for Life was again a tremendous success and fundraiser for rare diseases, largely thanks to countless hours of preparation from the Uplifting Athletes group led by Sickels. Although a lot has changed during the events' history, there has been at least one constant.
"The principles are the same, using the power of sport to impact the community around you," said Shirley.