North Texas Chapter offers ‘something for everyone’

Pep band (group photo)

The North Texas Chapter serves an expansive geographic region with a wide variety of events, such as when the chapter’s alumni Blue Band played at the chapter’s sendoff picnic four years ago. All Penn State eyes have been on Texas this week, and the Dallas-based chapter has been ready. 

The North Texas Chapter’s watch party will feel different this week.

The chapter averaged nearly 100 Penn Staters per event this football season, though Saturday’s game will feature some new ambience. Mainly, Penn State football is coming to them.

Penn State is playing in Texas for the first time in nearly a decade, and it’s been a little longer than that (44 years) since the Nittany Lions last appeared in the Cotton Bowl.

Giving it some more thought, “different” might be an understatement.

Suffice to say, our Dallas-based chapter is excited. And beyond that, Chapter President Jeff Zawadzki ’97 understands the opportunity the game provides beyond football.

“What we try to get across to people is we have a broad range of events — you’re going to find something where you fit in,” Zawadzki said. “We work really well with the other Texas chapters and find something for everyone.”

Zawadzki moved to Texas three weeks after graduating from Penn State, and he joined the North Texas Chapter the following fall. As he said, not everybody is a football junkie, so a networking event or community service project will probably be more appealing to some folks. The chapter also hosts a holiday party that attracts local Penn Staters. 

Given the expansive geographic region that the chapter covers, Zawadzki figures the more options, the better. It makes sense.

More immediate, the chapter is hosting an event Friday evening in Dallas, and chances are board members will see Penn Staters who they haven’t met before. Even for new folks they meet during the season, Zawadzki said newcomers are surprised by how organized and produced their watch parties are.

Some games are so packed that there’s standing-room only space, and the chapter uses those Saturday afternoons to recruit new members and renew membership for current members. There are also raffles that support the chapter’s scholarship endowment, which has grown over the years and now exceeds $100,000.

Aside from a few folks who are out of town on vacation, most of the chapter’s board members will be in attendance at AT&T Stadium on Saturday; kickoff is set for Noon ET/11 a.m. CT between Penn State and Memphis.

Zawadzki’s keenly familiar with the area that the chapter serves, and he has nearly two decades’ worth of experience to draw from. He first got involved with the chapter in 2001, and over the years, has helped out with the chapter’s website and social media channels. Zawadzki also previously served as vice president in charge of technology, and this is his third year as chapter president.

He succeeded Craig Micklow, an alumni leader who served as North Texas Chapter president for 27 years. The chapter routinely earns Elm Level distinction, which current Vice President Kurt Heinemann proudly noted Friday morning as he represented the chapter during the Alumni Association’s community service project.

The new year promises more chances for folks interested in joining the chapter, or just learning more. Former longtime Penn State coach and administrator Joe Battista ’83 will visit with the chapter, and the group is also looking at attending a Dallas Stars hockey game.

There’s value in Zawadzki having served the chapter so long before stepping into the president’s role. You see and hear a lot over the years, what works and what doesn’t, etc. The chapter still employs a tactical approach, something Micklow started and which Zawadzki continues.

“I learned things from Craig: how you interact with different vendors and treat those people and build relationships,” Zawadzki said. “Craig is really good at building relationships, and that’s something I took from him. He approached the chapter from a business perspective, and that makes us successful. We want to have some procedures and processes, and it helps it run a lot smoother.

Zawadzki still talks with Micklow and his wife, Judy, who hosted the chapter’s annual student sendoff picnic at their house for nearly three decades.

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Alumni leader and former longtime North Texas Chapter President Craig Micklow gave an inspiring speech in 2017, as he accepted the Kay and Ernie Salvino Volunteer of the Year Award.

There’s a strong foundation with the chapter, which oversees an expansive geographic region. There are challenges with that, and chapter is maximizing its footprint by partnering with other chapters in the state for what Zawadzki called a “Texas throwdown.”

Here’s the plan: Each participating Alumni Association chapter in Texas will create a page for its THON fundraiser. Zawadzki said it’s a friendly competition to see who can raise the most money. Sounds like it’ll be a win-win for everyone involved, most of all Four Diamonds families and THON.

As is often the case, football is also a mainstay for the chapter, a connecting point for alumni to get together and catch up. Same plan this weekend, only with tens of thousands of more visitors.

“Dallas-area folks are excited to get out there,” Zawadzki said of Saturday’s game. “We have some alums who can’t make it back to Happy Valley, so it’s nice to see them here locally.”

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Tradition of Giving Back

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Nearly 100 volunteers from the Penn State Alumni Association and the University of Memphis Alumni Association teamed up Friday morning at I Can Still Shine, painting walls, organizing clothes, and building shelves. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

This is quickly becoming one of our favorite traditions.

That was the thinking Friday morning at the I Can Still Shine program, where the Penn State Alumni Association partnered with the University of Memphis Alumni Association to give back to the local community.

Nearly 100 volunteers from the two alumni associations painted walls, built shelves, organized clothes, and jumped in anytime something was needed. You can check out some photos here that showcase the spirit of volunteerism, as The Football Letter photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g was on-hand to provide his usual great photos.

It’s the third straight year we’ve partnered with the opposing team’s alumni association at the bowl for a community service project, and it’s a good reminder that alumni and fans can make an impact beyond the field.

We all know Saturday’s game is important, and folks from both sides spoke proudly about their Universities and alumni, and how much fun their seasons have been. We enjoyed meeting Memphis alumni and fans, and some of our colleagues at their alumni association. And the program’s founder, Brenda Jackson, shared how the program supports battered women and their children. It’s an inspiring story, and we hope we helped in some small way.

Each alumni base provided plenty of volunteers, and you can hear from Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and Memphis’ director, Kristie Goldsmith, on our Facebook page.

“Memphis is about giving back, and we love to do this type of volunteer work,” Goldsmith said, as volunteers hammered away and continued with the service.

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Volunteers enjoyed a busy morning, organizing clothes for local families that I Can Still Shine supports year-round. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

That selfless mindset was present on both sides, with our North Texas Chapter onsite, too. Vice President Kurt Heinemann ’98 was busy all morning, moving from one side of the building to the other, helping with various projects.

As you can imagine, he and the chapter are excited for the game, and really, for all week. “As I tell my friends, my family is coming down to visit me this time,” Heinemann said, smiling, and he added the chapter will host an event tonight in Dallas.

Just one of many examples of Penn Staters coming together this week. And sometimes, we even include some Tigers.

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Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Cotton Bowl Sights and Sounds

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Alumni and fans kicked off the Penn State Bowl Tour with a reception at The Rustic, in Dallas. The Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, and special guests welcomed Penn Staters, who enjoyed a relaxing evening ahead of the Cotton Bowl. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Texas didn’t disappoint.

Not that we’re surprised (we’re not).

The chances are incredibly high that you’ll have a good time anytime you gather with a bunch of Penn Staters, and that was exactly the scene that played out this evening about 15 miles from AT&T Stadium, site of this year’s Cotton Bowl. The Penn State Bowl Tour kicked off with a welcome reception, and the ambience was just what folks were craving.

A few hundred Nittany Lion supporters gathered tonight at The Rustic, a down-home restaurant that offered what most folks are craving after a long day of traveling: good food, cold drinks, memorable views, and most importantly, an opportunity to gather with fellow Penn Staters and enjoy performances from the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes.

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Cool moment: Penn State President Eric Barron sported some gear from Saquon Barkley’s line of Nike clothing, as he and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour spoke with alumni and fans. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Penn State President Eric Barron and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour also attended, sharing insight on how the University and athletic department strive to be one of the leading educational institutions in the nation.

Both Barron and Barbour stressed how our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom while surpassing the competition in the athletic arena, with Barbour touting the student-athletes’ upcoming Academic Progress Rate (APR). You can learn more about the APR on the NCAA website.

Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and President Randy Houston, meanwhile, welcomed travelers and spoke to the power that our alumni network flexes when thousands alumni travel every year to the bowl game. You can check out our archived live stream of Clifford and Houston on our Facebook page, in addition to a host of videos on our Twitter feed.

Stay tuned all week, as we’ll update the blog and our social channels and share how Penn Staters are bringing the roar to Texas.

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For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

See you soon, Cotton Bowl

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We’re heading to Texas in a few days for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, where Penn State will vie for its third 11-win season in four years. It’s been a while since the Nittany Lions have achieved that level of success, and with James Franklin recently signing a contract extension and bringing in another Top-15 recruiting class, this level of success very well could continue.

As Franklin often says, it’s a group effort, including alumni, fans, and lettermen, the work that goes on behind the scenes by the football coaches and support staff, and the incredible level of dedication that’s put forth by our student-athletes.

As usual, it’s an exciting time for the program and the passionate fan base that supports the Nittany Lions, and that level of bold enthusiasm will be on display this week in Dallas and the surrounding area.

Saturday will be the first time that The Football Letter stalwarts John Black ’62 and Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g will cover the Cotton Bowl. Ridge Riley detailed the last time Penn State played in the Cotton Bowl in 1975, in the next-to-last year that Riley oversaw the publication. We’ve uncovered a few Associated Press photos from the victory over Baylor that year; one is included in this post, and we’ll share a few others this week on our social channels.

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Joe Paterno met with reporters at a press conference on Dec. 28, 1974, prior to the Cotton Bowl. Also pictured: Baylor head coach Grant Teaff. Photo credit: Associated Press.

If you’re traveling into town for the game, you’re invited to attend a number of events that the Alumni Association is hosting, including a volunteer service project. You can find complete details on Penn State News.

Notably, the morning of the game, we’re hosting the official Cotton Bowl pep rally, from 8:30-9:00 a.m. It’ll take place right by AT&T Stadium, within the Goodyear Huddle Up Fan Fest located in the Miller Lite (West) Plaza. The pep rally will feature the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, the Nittany Lions, the Lionettes, and special guests.

We hope to see you there, and we look forward to meeting alumni and fans during our trip. We’ll have additional content on the blog later this week, including coverage of our events. Tag the Alumni Association and The Football Letter Twitter accounts, and let us know if you’re in town or if you see a cool photo or interesting story idea. 

We Are …

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For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Penn State Heading To The Cotton Bowl

Penn State is heading to the Cotton Bowl Classic for the first time since 1975.

The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions learned their postseason fate during the New Year’s Six reveal show on Sunday. 

Penn State will play No. 17 Memphis inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 28. 

James Franklin’s squad put together another 10-win season for the program, capping off the regular season with a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

This marks the third time in the last four seasons the Nittany Lions have won at least 10 games. 

The last time Penn State accomplished that feat was a span from 1993-96. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, captured the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday by topping Cincinnati, 29-24. It was their second win over the Bearcats in an eight-day span. 

The win also gave Memphis its first 12-win season in program history. 

Central Ohio Chapter offers blue-and-white oasis in Buckeye state

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The Central Ohio Chapter will host an alumni mixer Friday night, which is an opportunity “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” said Chapter President John Eveland (third from left).

John Eveland searched everywhere for something that reminded him of his Penn State days.

It took him a while, though he did find that blue-and-white connection.

Finally.

Eveland grew up in rural Pennsylvania and attended two Penn State campuses, first enrolling at Hazleton before earning his College of Engineering degree from University Park.

He made the most of his college days and waned to reunite with like-minded alumni, a fairly straight-forward goal.

So, why did Eveland’s search take longer than you’d expect. Simple. He lives near Columbus.

Growing up, Eveland saw Penn State everywhere. Then, it was all about the Buckeyes once he moved to Ohio. As Eveland said, he wanted to hear about the Nittany Lions.

He stopped by a Central Ohio Chapter watch party, and found what he was looking for: a sense of Happy Valley amid a sea of scarlet and grey.

“After a few more game watches, I started attending board meetings and wanted to learn more,” Eveland said. “Staying connected was important. I know it’s important to a lot of other alumni, and the chapter is a great way to keep that connection.”

Eveland, a 1992 Penn State graduate, first got involved with the chapter about a decade ago. He recently saw an opportunity to help even more when a leadership position opened up; so Eveland decided to step up and accept the role as chapter president, beginning his new role in August.

It was also a natural next step for someone who maximized his time at Penn State.

“I got a great education while I was there, and the people and the experiences I had outside of the classroom were also really important to me,” Eveland said. “I was coming from a little town, so there weren’t a lot of people moving in and out of my life. When I got to the Hazleton campus, that all changed.”

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“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Chapter President John Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome.”

Eveland then transferred to University Park, and his social circle expanded. He met new people, enjoyed ever-broadening activities, all while completing his college days in a meaningful way.

“Staying connected to Penn State reminds me of those experiences and keeps me open to having more of those experiences,” he said.

This weekend will be an exciting time for the chapter, Eveland said, with Penn State and Ohio State set for a Top-10 battle at The Horseshoe on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon on FOX.

The chapter will host an alumni event Friday night at a local restaurant, with the event drawing 300-plus attendees in recent years. It’s a chance for Eveland and his group “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” he said, with the added bonus of meeting new folks who might be learning about the Central Ohio Chapter for the first time.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for the chapter, with hosting watch parties, though there are also happy hour events and THON fundraisers for members to participate in year-round. There’s even an annual canoe or kayak trip in the spring, along with the yearly student sendoff picnic. Eveland said the chapter also looks for ways to volunteer for local charities.

This weekend’s event will also benefit the chapter’s Franklyn C. Ingram Spirit Scholarship, which benefits an incoming deserving freshman from the area. All the scholarship funds come directly from the support of local alumni and friends.

That type of thoughtfulness and caring are hallmarks for Eveland’s group. Even for something as simple as asking for a good place to grab dinner or something to do before or after the game, the Central Ohio Chapter has you covered.

“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome and that they have somewhere go and be around other Penn Starters. In this town, that can be hard.”

There are nearly 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups, spanning geographic regions, academic colleges, and shared interests. You can view a full list and connect with Penn Staters anytime at alumni.psu.edu/groups.

Penn State Ranked No. 4 In First College Football Playoff Rankings Of The Season

Penn State’s schedule over the past three games has been a gauntlet. 

The Nittany Lions remain unbeaten after navigating through a tricky primetime win at Iowa, holding off Michigan in the White Out and exercising some demons with a 28-7 win at Michigan State. 

While further tests await, including this weekend’s clash with surprise unbeaten Minnesota and a showdown at “The Horseshoe” with Ohio State, Penn State is right in the thick of the College Football Playoff race through eight games. 

On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff committee revealed its first Top-25 of the season, with Coach James Franklin’s team checking in at No. 4. 

This marks the first time the program has been ranked inside the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings at any point.

Penn State trails No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama at the top of the rankings, but edged the defending national champs Clemson at No. 5 and Georgia at No. 6.

This weekend’s opponent, the Golden Gophers, appeared at No 17. Other Big Ten companions Wisconsin (13), Michigan (14) and Iowa (18) were all also ranked. 

You can see the full rankings at the bottom of this story. 

A berth in the College Football Playoff for Penn State could hinge on the Nov. 23 matchup in Columbus against the Buckeyes. The winner of that game will almost certainly win the Big Ten East Division and earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. 

Win the Big Ten title game and Penn State is essentially a lock to make the Playoff as an unbeaten conference champion. 

Still, a path does exist for the loser of the Penn State-Ohio State game to still find its way into the committee’s final four. 

In the Nittany Lions’ case — with wins over the likes of the Wolverines, Hawkeyes, Pitt (Yes, the Panthers have been solid since their loss to Penn State in September), and potentially Minnesota and Indiana  — their final resume as a one-loss team is going to be just as strong as any other contending team at the end of the season.

Penn State would obviously need some help in that scenario, namely needing the likes of Georgia, Oregon, Utah and Oklahoma to lose again between now and the final selection show on Dec. 8.

There’s plenty of football to be played. And all of that being said, my focus is on Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota.

I’m just eager to see Penn State go 1-0 this week.

We Are! 

— Vincent Lungaro ’18

Full Rankings 

1. Ohio State

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. Clemson

6. Georgia

7. Oregon

8. Utah

9. Oklahoma

10. Florida

11. Auburn

12. Baylor 

13. Wisconsin

14. Michigan

15. Notre Dame

16. Kansas State

17.  Minnesota

18. Iowa

19.  Wake Forest

20. Cincinnati

21. Memphis

22. Boise State

23. Oklahoma State

24. Navy

25. SMU