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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Being a student-athlete is about more than just wins and losses. For the Penn State women's ice hockey team, their role in the community is something they take great pride in and actively pursue.
Last Friday at Pegula Ice Arena, several local elementary school students came to watch the Nittany Lions in their game against Lindenwood. A few weeks before, junior Irene Kiroplis went to that very same school to interact with the students.
"I really think that Penn State, being such a prominent thing in State College, makes community involvement very big because the whole community is this school," Kiroplis said. "I think it's pretty awesome that we get to experience that and use hockey as an opportunity to meet little kids and really interact with the community in ways we may not otherwise."
While she was at the elementary school, Kiroplis took part in several activities, including reading a book to the kids as well as participating in some arts and crafts.
"I read 'Ten Little Goblins,' a Halloween-themed book to them and then they all told me at once what they were going to be for Halloween," Kiroplis said. "I think I picked up Batman, Superwoman and a zombie. After that, we did finger painting and we made a witch by painting our fingers black and our palms green. We Just kind of stuck them on paper and I 100% did one too."
She also stressed the importance of meeting the kids before they actually come to the game.
"Dana [Crouse] is our community involvement person and she does a really good job connecting with those schools," Kiroplis said. "She has an intern at that school and they thought it would be a really good idea for a couple of us to come meet the kids and interact with them. That way they would have a face and a personality to put to who they're watching."
"[Community service] comes so naturally to this team," head coach Josh Brandwene said. "It's very instinctive to want to give back. Everybody on this team is really stepping up and supporting the community, whether it be reading in elementary schools, supporting THON, it's just so natural and it's what makes Penn State such a great community and it's what makes them such great Penn Staters."
Speaking of THON, last Saturday's game featured several THON children in attendance as well as some of the Penn State THON captains. They were able to come out on the ice to play broomball at halftime and hung out with the players afterwards.
One weekend every February, THON, Penn State's 46-hour dance marathon for children and families affected by childhood cancer, takes over Happy Valley. While that weekend draws the headlines, it's much more than that. It's a yearlong buildup and celebration fighting for a great cause. For freshmen, college and THON can sometimes be unknown and overwhelming in the first few months, but days like Saturday help them understand the significance of the events.
"It was just really cool to see all the kids and their families," Brooke Madsen said. "Just everyone kind of uniting together in an event. I really liked talking to them and you could just see the happiness on their face."
The team also participates in Athlete Hour during THON, and they have their own methods for helping to support the cause.
"Last year, we had third jerseys that we auctioned off and gave all the proceeds to THON," Kiroplis said. "This year we just had the yellow tape on our sticks and the THON children come out to our game to kind of represent the very large group of people that Penn State does help."
"Everyone really enjoys [THON] and works together to make a difference," Madsen said. "I just really like that whole working together thing to help them out."
Brandwene put into words the importance of such a significant cause to the whole community.
"THON is that all-in Penn State experience," Brandwene said. "It's one of those things that can't be put on paper, can't truly be quantified; the all out effort on the part of it being first and foremost a student-run philanthropy, the number one ranked student-run philanthropy in the world. And then to have the opportunity for so many people to contribute. You've got the event, the dance marathon itself and all that goes into that. But the canning trips and the athletic teams stepping up to the plate just speaks to what the Penn State community really is."
As much as these Nittany Lions look forward to competing on the ice each week, events like last weekend and having the chance to interact with the community is what truly makes Penn State special.