The eyes of the national media were squarely on the football community of Penn State University this week, as Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno was fired Wednesday by the university board of trustees under a cloud for his perceived lack of action against a sexual predator.
Locally, parents in the football communities of Orchard Lake St. Mary's and Linden reacted with outrage, sadness and a bit more wariness about kids and sports after hearing of the arrest of former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on sex abuse charges.
They spoke about the events, which took place in State College this week, prior to the Division 3 regional championship game between the two schools Saturday afternoon.
It is worth noting that Penn State sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden is a 2009 graduate of St. Mary's, and was brought to State College, PA, in part by Nittany Lions recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary. McQueary is regarded as a key witness in the building case against Sandusky. He also has been roundly criticized for his own role in the scandal, and has been placed on administrative leave by the university.
St. Mary's head coach George Porritt said after the on Saturday that he had not made contact with Bolden since the scandal broke, but was aware that he remains on the team and ready to play.
Handling by athletic department, university administration, and media
Tina Clements, whose son currently plays for the St. Mary's varsity team, expressed concern of what she sees as a double standard being held to McQueary against Paterno. "It almost seems like a double standard that this guy is let go (Paterno) and this guy gets to be there. That bothers me, because (McQueary) saw something," said Clements, of Waterford. "It’s horrible, any way you look at it."
Terri Lowden of Linden offered that he would have handled the situation differently if he were in McQueary's position, after allegedly witnessing the crimes. "I would’ve done something initially different from walking away and not saying anything. (Sandusky) wouldn’t have left the shower," Lowden said. "I think everyone in this situation is wrong."
According to court records, McQueary witnessed the rape in the Penn State locker room of a 10-year-old boy, and reported the incident to Paterno and university officials.
Kevin O'Neil, a Grand Blanc native, offered criticism of the media's handling the situation. "It’s heartbreaking, especially being a father, and not knowing exactly what happened," O'Neil said.
"The media does stories, and I understand you guys are only limited to so much (information), but it’s devastating to see a man who coached so long is just gone and the guy who witnessed it is gone. You feel powerless."
It's a different world
"I'm an alumnus — I was on the football team and a whole bunch of other teams," said Jerry Baker of Rochester Hills, a 1950 graduate of St. Mary's. "But to compare my situation growing up to this situation is impossible. When I played, it was so long ago, the country was different. The thinking was different. Today, it’s so open and so diverse."
Ken Clements mentioned that high school football teams don't share a shower in the locker room as was common practice when he played.
"Back in the '70s, when I played, we showered together after every practice and there was never any kind of thought about something like this. But Danny doesn’t shower after practice and no one does," said Clements. "I don’t know what the reason is. We certainly think St. Mary's is a wonderful place, it's just funny that this is what the norm is.
"When I played high school sports, I really looked up to my head coaches in football and wrestling," said O'Neil. "If they would’ve done something like that, and even witnessed it, and not done what he should’ve done morally — you know, it's hurtful to think about."
'Team sports changes parenting'
Brian Queen of Novi has a son on the Eaglets' freshmen hockey team and attended the football game with his family.
"My wife said to me, last night, 'Do you think we should watch out now?'" Queen said. "My son's been playing hockey since he was 5, but parents typically get out of the team's locker room when the kids turn 10, 11, 12. You also think about the school and what kind of place is it. You think about St. Mary’s and it’s like, what could go wrong?"
Arthur Wiley of Linden said that an "extraordinary" sense of trust should be felt between parents and children who participate in team sports.
"Team sports changes parenting," Wiley said, "Because it's something else that competes with family and school. You need to have that extraordinary trust to let your boy or girl get in that close relationship with that coach, which, honestly, they're going to need if the team is going to be successful. (Coaches) have a tougher job now than they used to."
Tina Clements said that openness and honesty within the family were key to avoiding situations like those at Penn State.
"I think you need to talk to your kids about stuff like that," Clements said. "We’ve had that conversation with our son because you do get a lot of close relationships when it comes to football."