NITTANY LION LEGEND
Penn State’s athletic symbol, chosen by the student body in 1906, is the mountain lion, which once roamed central Pennsylvania. H.D. “Joe” Mason, a member of the Class of 1907, conducted a one-man campaign to choose a school mascot after seeing the Princeton tiger on a trip with the Penn State baseball team to that New Jersey campus. A student publication sponsored the campaign to select a mascot and Penn State is believed to be the first college to adopt the lion as a mascot. Since Penn State is located in the Nittany Valley at the foot of Mount Nittany, the lion was designated as a Nittany Lion. In regional folklore, Nittany (or Nita-Nee) was a valorous Indian princess in whose honor the Great Spirit caused Mount Nittany to be formed. A later namesake, daughter of chief O-Ko-Cho, who lived near the mouth of Penn’s Creek, fell in love with Malachi Boyer, a trader. The tearful maiden and her lost lover became legend and her name was given to the stately mountain.
NITTANY LION SHRINE
Penn State’s Nittany Lion shrine was dedicated on Oct. 24, 1942, during Homecoming Weekend. Animal sculptor Heinz Warneke and stonecutter Joseph Garatti molded a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone into the most recognizable symbol of Penn State. The shrine was chosen from six models submitted by Warneke. The shrine is a gift of the Class of 1940 and rests in a natural setting of trees near Recreation Building. The site was chosen because of its accessibility, the surrounding trees and the fact that the sculpture would not be dwarfed by nearby buildings.
BLUE & WHITE
Penn State’s student-athletes are instantly identified by their blue and white uniforms — but those weren’t the original school colors. A three-member committee representing the sophomore, junior and senior classes was appointed in October of 1887 to develop color options from which the student body would select the school’s official colors. Dark pink and black was the unanimous choice of the student body after considering the color combinations presented by the committee. Soon many students and the baseball team were sporting pink and black striped blazers and caps. However, problems arose when the pink faded to white after several weeks of exposure to the sun. The students then opted for blue, rather than black, and white. The official announcement of the new choice was made on March 18, 1890.
PENN STATE WHITE OUT
In recent years, Penn State students have donned white clothes, paint — anything white — to show their solidarity and support for the Nittany Lions. Forming a mass of bouncing and infectious enthusiasm, the students have “Whited Out” Beaver Stadium, the Bryce Jordan Center and other sports venues, making them some of the noisiest and most intimidating stadiums in America.
The first thing to know is Wikipedia has it wrong. The term “Happy Valley” originated with Centre Daily Times columnist Katey Lehman. Ross and Katey Lehman, one of the town’s regal couples, became good friends with Pat and Harriet O’Brien. Ross Lehman, a 1942 graduate, was the executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, among other things, and Katey wrote a column for the Centre Daily Times entitled “Open House.” Pat O’Brien was a Liberal Arts professor. The O’Briens used to take Sunday drives with their kids and often remarked “What a happy valley,” a phrase that then traveled to Katey. The initial appearance of the phrase in print was in Katey’s column of June 22, 1961. She used it in lower case between quotes, “happy valley.” In a June 25, 1962 column she headlined it, “Happy Valley And Jet Age.” Katey continued to mention it a few more times in the early 1960s.
NITTANY LION PUSHUPS
Although some Nittany Lion mascots had been doing pushups periodically through the years, Marty Seorta (1965-67) is generally credited with starting the ritual of pushups after every Penn State score, matching the number of pushups with Penn State’s total points on the scoreboard. Twelve years later, Nittany Lion Norm Constantine decided to do one-handed pushups and that tradition carries on to this day. Tragically, Constantine became the iconic symbol of all Nittany Lion mascots after a 1981 car accident left him paralyzed — unable to walk or speak again — until his death in 1990. A fund-raising effort in Norm’s honor continues to this day by the Back The Lions organization, providing a scholarship for the reigning mascot, cheerleaders, and others. The mascot statue located in the lobby of Penn State’s All-Sports Museum was part of that fundraising endeavor and is dedicated in Constantine’s memory.
WE ARE…PENN STATE
The original Penn State cheer from the 1920s into the 1950s was N-I….Double-T….A-N-Y, which the cheerleaders guided different sections to chant in rhythm. In the 1970s, the cheerleaders were looking for more cheers. They checked around the country for ideas and learned of cheers at Kentucky, Ohio State and Southern California that they liked. They blended the three together to come up with “We Are…Penn State.” The cheer didn’t catch on right away, but after several years and growing pride in Penn State’s gridiron success it caught hold in the early 1980s. The cheerleaders later added “Thank You …Your Welcome.” The first utterance of the phrase “We are Penn State” is often attributed to All-American Steve Suhey. A captain on the 1947 Cotton Bowl team, Suhey used the phrase as the team, an early racially-integrated unit, was faced with several situations in which Penn State’s African-American players were not welcome to participate. Team captain Suhey, pointing at all his teammates, said “We’re Penn State and we play together or we don’t play.” Penn State forfeited a game against the University of Miami and stayed in Army barracks when hotels at the Cotton Bowl refused them lodging as a team.
The band music played at every home game goes back almost 100 years. Two of the songs, “The Nittany Lion” and “Fight On State,” are still featured as part of the pregame festivities when the Blue Band enters Beaver Stadium and marches down the field in the “Floating Lion” formation. A third song, “Victory,” also is played during the game. Jimmy Leyden wrote both “Victory” and “The Nittany Lion.” He was a sophomore in 1913 when he wrote “Victory” with the familiar chorus, “Fight, Fight, Fight for the Blue and White, Victory will our slogan be.” Then, while working in New York in the summer of 1919, Leyden wrote “The Nittany Lion,” now better known by its opening words, “Hail to the Lion, Loyal and True…” Leyden introduced both songs at football games, standing in the middle of the field and singing the song’s lyrics through a large megaphone with a cornet accompanying him. “Fight on State” was written in 1935 by Joseph Saunders, a 1915 graduate then living in Atlantic City. The song originally was given to the freshman class to sing as their song and it was so catchy that it was soon adopted by the entire student body and the Blue Band.