STATE COLLEGE — Students numbering 1,000 or more demonstrated in support of embattled coach Joe Paterno late Tuesday night, moving back and forth between downtown and the University Park campus singing the alma mater and chanting “We are Penn State.”
The demonstration appeared raucous but peaceful. Police from State College, Ferguson Township and Penn State were stationed at intersections downtown to monitor the situation.
The scene capped a day of pro- Paterno demonstrations by students that began with a rally by a few hundred students at Paterno’s home. At about 10 p.m., hundreds of students gathered downtown, holding signs that read “Remember Joe for 409” and “JoePa is not guilty.”
“I’m here to support Joe Paterno, and the media is blowing this (the sex abuse scandal) way out of proportion,” said sophomore Brendan Westfall.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
The crowd then began running to Old Main, where its ranks continued to swell.
“I saw a stampede of people running down here, and I knew it was for a good cause,” said senior Bill Munro, who joined the rally at Old Main. “This is all about Joe.”
The crowd moved back and forth, between campus and downtown.
Student Corey Stubbs wasn’t quite sure what the rally was about.
“I know I was here earlier and there was a mix of some people pro-Paterno and against Paterno. I think it’s more about coming together regardless of what you think.”
Lt. M.J. Argiro, of the State College police, was stationed at Beaver Avenue and Locust Lane.
“We’re just gathering here to make sure no property or people are damaged or hurt,” he said. “We don’t know what they’re celebrating. If they want to celebrate, go to the game on Saturday. But we’re just trying to make sure everyone’s safe, and we’re willing to wait here until they leave.”
Events leading up to the rally began when university officials announced to a horde of waiting media that Paterno’s weekly press
conference was canceled, and reports began to increase of calls for his resignation.
Between 200 and 300 students gathered outside Joe Paterno’s home at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, chanting “We love you” and “Beat Nebraska,” and forming a human wall to block reporters from the head football coach.
“Go home, media,” several shouted during a rally that lasted an hour-and-a-half and was alternately tense, celebratory and emotional.
At one point, Paterno talked to the students through a window.
“We’re always going to be Penn State,” he told them. “I’m proud of you. I’ve always been proud of you. Beat Nebraska.”
“I think they should stop making him a scapegoat,” said 18-year-old Kimberly Neal. “He’s the face of our university, and I don’t think he’s done anything but make a good name for our university.”
With State College police working to keep order, the crowd grew, with students chanting the coach’s name and “We are Penn State.” Sasha Mathews held a sign comparing JoePa to Jesus.
“I think everyone should back off,” Mathews said. “It’s not our place to judge.”
Added 18-year-old Sean McCrea: “We should wait ’til the investigation’s done before we jump to any conclusions.”
At about 6 p.m., Paterno’s son, Scott, greeted the students.
“Say a prayer,” he told them, “and then please, feel free to cheer, feel free to show your support, but let’s remember ... to show support for the victims first.”
When Paterno’s van arrived, journalists and students swarmed around it before it got into the driveway.
“Hold them back,” some students yelled, as others pushed camera-wielding journalists away from the coach.
Paterno made it inside, but talked to students through a window.
Then he came out and was surrounded by the crowd.
“I’ve lived for this place. I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls,” Paterno said. “It’s hard for me to say how much this means.”
“As you know, the kids that were the victims, I think we ought to say a prayer for them.”
Asked if he was still the coach, Paterno didn’t answer but a young woman who stood with her arm around him replied: “Now is not the time.”
Despite the chants and cheers, students in the crowd had mixed and sometimes conflicting views about how top administrators, including Paterno, handled both the initial child abuse allegations and the recent arrests.
“Obviously, JoePa should have done more,” said Eliza Crawford, 19. But she also said “that shouldn’t be a reason for him to be fired.”
Kathryn Keydash, 20, said she supported Paterno “100 percent” but was angered by Graham Spanier’s statement Saturday of “unconditional support” for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
“I did not respect him at all for that,” Keydash said.
The rallies continued, moving to Old Main where more than 100 students gathered, and taking place at the Paterno statue outside beaver Stadium, until the number of students, shouting their support for Paterno, began to build again downtown.
Paterno “is the heart of Penn State,” junior Kacie Latchford said. “He did everything he was supposed to do.”
Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619. CDT staffer Erin Shields and The Associated Press contributed to this report.