She loves high school wrestling, and lets everyone around her know it.
Whenever a wrestling match would come on the radio, Rita Palmer, 84, of College Township, would be ready, with team rosters, stats and standings spread out on the table in front of her, her daughter Diane Robinson said.
“My kids would come home and I would say, ‘Shut up, I can’t hear the radio!’ ” Palmer said in a telephone interview.
“Heaven help us if we interrupted,” Robinson added.
The love of the sport never swayed, even as Palmer’s health took a turn for the worse. She’s been on dialysis for the past three years, Palmer said, and was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, which has spread.
Palmer’s family has a history of lung cancer, Robinson said, so her mother is well aware of the side effects and complications of treatment.
“She decided — and it was a very difficult decision — for a more peaceful passing to stop with dialysis,” Robinson said. She was given about two weeks to live.
This is the point where a family member of one of the Bald Eagle Area High School wrestlers — specifically sophomore Gage McClenahan’s stepmother, Carrie Corrbet — stepped in. Corrbet has been working with Palmer around the house, Robinson said, and caught wind of her passion for wrestling.
Corrbet then reached out to the team, asking them if there was anything they could do for Palmer in her last days.
Palmer said her love of wrestling stretched back to her senior high school days in Erie in 1952, when she was a cheerleader.
“One of the wrestlers said, ‘Why don’t you ever come to any of the wrestling matches?’” she said. “And I thought, ‘I don’t know!’ So one day I went to a match and I absolutely loved it.”
She continued to follow local wrestling from that day on, a love that followed her when she moved to State College.
Naturally, she said, she always rooted for State College as it was the home team. But if State College wasn’t doing so well, she would root for Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Area, Penn State or whomever was the home team.
“Go Bald Eagle!” Palmer shouted.
Palmer was never crazy about flowers, Robinson said, so they have been trying to come up with something they can have at her funeral to show her love of wrestling. That’s when Palmer came up with the idea for a video that could be played at her viewing.
Corrbet contacted the team a few days ago, Bald Eagle Area assistant wrestling coach Kyle Wallace said Friday at wrestling practice, and explained the situation. The team came to the decision to not only make a short video for her, but to also present her with a shirt signed by the team and a singlet for her to keep before the team headed off to Altoona for the weekend’s District 6 Class 3A championships.
“(The team) took it pretty seriously,” Wallace said. “They’re a pretty good group of kids and they understand that they have an opportunity to be a light in someone’s hard time and lift her spirits.”
Gage McClenahan, 16, said to realize that Palmer had been following the team so closely over the past several months was “touching.”
“It’s amazing,” he said. “You don’t realize how much you touch someone’s life until it’s almost too late.”
Wrestling head coach Ron Guenot said Palmer is an example of how much wrestling means to the county community.
“It’s really special,” he said. “It shows you how strong the wrestling roots are in Centre County. Even for someone from State College — not from the Bald Eagle Area community — it shows you a lot about the appreciation.”
The team met with Palmer briefly at her home Friday evening to present the shirt, singlet and a banner, Robinson said. The entire team managed to fit into her small home as she told them of her fandom.
“It was wonderful,” Robinson said. “It was a very thoughtful and a precious memory. It means a lot to a very wonderful person. If you could see her, she was glowing.”