Not every school has tents as important back-to-school supplies, but at Penn State, the fall semester doesn’t really start right without them.
By Thursday morning, the corner of Porter and Curtin roads at Beaver Stadium had been transformed overnight from an empty plaza to a pop-up neighborhood of nylon tents and folding chairs. “Nittanyville, population 331” the sign out front reads.
The community is a village of die-hards for whom the first home game of the season doesn’t start with the noon kickoff Saturday, but in sleeping bags at midnight on Wednesday.
Rachel Denny, a sophomore from Beaver Falls, is studying secondary math. But around noon Thursday, her day was not about quadratic equations or child development. It was about hanging out in front of her temporary home in the shadow of the stadium, soaking up every moment of her first time as a Nittanyville resident.
“I wanted to do it last year, but I didn’t have a tent and didn’t know anyone who had one,” she said.
That’s why she jumped at the chance to participate this year when a tent-owning friend offered her the opportunity.
“There’s just so much excitement,” Denny said. “The new freshmen, a new coach.”
She doesn’t know if she will stay in the tents for all seven home games. That depends on outside forces like work schedules, but she made sure to do it for the home opener against the Akron Zips. A friend from Akron is coming to see the game.
Denny did not look at all sad when she said her friend will go home seeing her team lose. More importantly, she wants to be a part of the new history of the Nittany Lions.
“I am definitely going to do this for James Franklin’s first home game,” she said.
One of the new changes for Franklin’s tenure as head coach is a new way the players will enter the stadium. In August, Franklin did a dry run with the team, walking them in along Curtin Road, where they will pass throngs of fans, including the denizens of Nittanyville.
Brian Sanvido is Nittanyville’s president. A fifth-year senior majoring in architectural engineering, he is enthusiastic about the new plans, the new coach and the new season. In addition to his predictions of a 20-point win over Akron, he anticipates Franklin’s changes to make for a more engaged, interactive relationship between fans and the team.
“He’s making an effort to make more people a part of it,” Sanvido said. “It’s bringing the Penn State community together to show its support.”
Organizers said the population of Nittanyville currently amounts to 43 tents scattered about the grounds. About 70 to 80 students are expected to sleep there each night leading up to the game.
For some, there is no question of going back to a dorm or an apartment.
Darian Somers is Nittanyville’s public relations officer, a junior majoring in print journalism. This is his third year living in the shadow of the stadium.
“I’m from Altoona. I grew up a big Penn State fan,” he said.
He remembers the first time he saw the tents by the stadium, a tradition for students determined to get the best seats possible no matter how long they have to wait in line.
“I knew I had to do that someday,” he said.
Somers has been a tenter since the Ohio State game in his freshman year. In all those games, he has only missed three single nights of sleeping in Nittanyville.
But why? Why sleep outside, sometimes in rain, sometimes in snow, sometimes in brutal cold, waiting to get inside one of the largest athletic arenas in the United States, let alone college football?
“It’s who we are,” said Sanvido. “This is where the most passionate Penn State football fans are. This is where we come together. “