Feb. 21, 2013
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The moment a student athlete commits to play for Penn State and receives their Varsity Letter Jacket, they are embraced into a family dedicated to helping them excel in every aspect of life.
Though the tradition of endowing first year athletes with an embroidered jacket to welcome them into the Nittany Lion culture has been passed down for years, the Varsity `S' Club held its first ever Varsity Letter Jacket Ceremony on Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The purpose of the event was to celebrate a moment that will live with these student athletes for the rest of their lives as they join one of the most prestigious athletic programs in the nation.
"It's an honor," said football freshman tackle Donovan Smith. "Waking up early in the morning, working out and playing in games is finally paying off. You're a part of one of the best varsity clubs out there, it just means a lot."
"It's a very prestigious group that I'm excited to be a part of," said women's soccer freshman midfielder Corey Persson. "It feels awesome."
Recently, Penn State developed a One Team mentality in which students, players and coaches unite to support each other through trial and tribulation. The Nittany Lions play as one and succeed as one. It's a concept deeply ingrained within the Varsity `S' Club where former athletes are able to stay connected with current players, contributing to their success both on and off the field. It epitomizes a way of life that defines Penn State as a University.
"The culture here is absolutely incredible," said Persson. "The whole One Team idea means supporting everyone and playing for something bigger than just yourself and playing for people that came before you."
The players in attendance wasted no time conversing with each other before the event began, discussing their respective sports and college experiences. Women's volleyball freshman outside hitter Megan Courtney described her first season as a Nittany Lion.
"It was crazy," said Courtney on the season. "That's the only word I can use to describe it. Playing with the girls at Rec Hall is an extremely incredible experience and playing for coach [Russ] Rose is one of the greatest things you could ever ask for."
Penn State athletics had an unbelievably successful fall. Nittany Lion teams went a combined 89-20-5, earning five Big Ten championships from women's volleyball, women's and men's soccer, and field hockey, who won the regular season title and the tournament title.
Women's soccer won its 15th straight Big Ten title and played for the College Cup Final and the women's cross-country team captured its first NCAA Mid Atlantic Regional title, defeating defending national champion Georgetown.
Penn State had five coaches win Big Ten Coach of the Year including field hockey's Charlene Morett, women's soccer's Erica Walsh, men's soccer's Bob Warming, women's volleyball's Russ Rose, and football's Bill O'Brien. O'Brien and Walsh both won National Coach of the Year and cross-country's director and head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan was named USTFCCCA Mid Atlantic women's cross-country coach of the year.
Off the field, the Nittany Lions had 100 Academic All-Big Ten honorees in the fall.
The Varsity `S' Club invited former Penn State Academic All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten Honoree defensive end Justin Kurpeikis and former field hockey All-American Michelle Tambroni as guest speakers. Both provided valuable insight into the impact of joining Penn State athletics.
"You're special because you're a part of something greater than yourself," said Kurpeikis on what it means to be a Penn State athlete. "You're part of a tradition in a place that stands for something good and true."
Kurpeikis, who played seven years in the NFL, emphasized that by receiving their Varsity Letter Jackets, the student-athletes are now intertwined in the culture and tradition that makes Penn State unique. They have become a piece of what defines the University.
"This first letter you get tonight, it's forever," said Kurpeikis. "You're now a part of Penn State's history, which I think is pretty cool."
Kurpeikis concluded his speech by congratulating the students on their incredible achievement and challenging them to work hard and make the most of their experience.
"Take this tonight as a great milestone and achievement for each of you," said Kurpeikis. "Enjoy tonight and go back to work tomorrow."
After the letterwinners were announced, women's soccer senior midfielder and Academic All-Big Ten Honoree Maddy Evans delivered an inspiring congratulatory message to the recipients where she reflected upon her career at Penn State and encouraged the student athletes to cherish every moment in college, even the ones that may seem unwanted.
"Whether it be a small piece of advice learned from an upper classman, a lesson learned from making a mistake, or a moment in your career that you think defines your experience, hold onto it," said Evans.
In the end, every Varsity Letter brings with it a different meaning and it's up to the student athlete to decide what that meaning will be and how they will make an impact at Penn State.
"For each of us, our Letter will represent something different," said Evans. "Each of us has a story that contributes to the overall Penn State experience. To me the Letter epitomizes the notion of dedicating myself to a lifelong dream and ultimately achieving it."
"I encourage you to soak in every single moment," added Evans. "As student athletes we have an unbelievable opportunity to do something special every single day."
The event concluded in perfect fashion as those in attendance gathered to sing the Penn State Alma Mater.