Category Archives: Unforgettable People

Why We Need Little League

I’m from Philadelphia, yo.

My Philly town, known for soft pretzels and cheesesteaks. The Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day, the lights of Boathouse Row. Rocky and the Art Museum steps. Grace Kelly.

A town that has a love-hate relationship with its sports teams, depending on how they are doing. Lately, it’s been mostly hate.

But when a Philly kid shines and the world takes notice, the hearts of Philadelphians swell with pride.

And when this kid is a 13 year-old girl pitching her way into the history books in a field of dreams, we are euphoric.

She is one of ours.

Such is life this week in Philadelphia.

The Little League World Series

I’m talking, of course, about the wunderkind Mo’ne Davis, starting pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons, a contender in the Little League World Series taking place right now in Williamsport, Pa.

Little League

Already gracing this week’s Sports Illustrated cover, Mo’ne has secured her place in history, no matter what the outcome of the series. Her pitching prowess is the talk of the sports world.

But it’s not just her talent that has everyone abuzz. It’s also her demeanor, her cool, focused groundedness  under a torrential amount of pressure. How she retains this composure in the spotlight of international scrutiny is beyond comprehension.

She is humble, too. She tries to shift the attention to her team mates. It’s not all about me, she insists over and over.

Mo'Ne Davis in the Little League World Series

For us Philadelphians watching at home, it’s been an exciting week. When was the last time we arranged our schedules to be around to watch a baseball game, let alone a Little League game? Oh right — back in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series. Which seems a lot longer ago than six years.

Mo’ne and the Taney Dragons have been awesome to watch, and with the story now trending worldwide, it feels good to be talking about something positive and wholesome. It’s a story with a happy ending, no matter what the ending is, about a terrific group of kids and a girl with the 70 mph fastball.

In this bleak and violent summer, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

The unrest and violence in our streets and around the world, the increasing threat of terrorism, the Israel-Gaza uprising, Michael Brown and James Foley … the bad news is endless. Our feeling of helplessness grows as the problems escalate.

And then there is Little League.

Is Little League baseball the answer to life’s problems? Of course not. But especially now, when we’re badly in need of a reminder that life is good, it’s a welcome diversion.

Little League is an example of what is best about America. If you’ve got talent and work hard, the sky is the limit. A bunch of Philly kids got together to play a game they love and ended up going to the World Series.

Tonight the Taney Dragons play a tough Chicago team, and it’s an elimination game. We Philadelphians will be cheering on our team.

No matter what happens, Taney Dragons, you are winners.

And if there’s a ticker tape parade down Broad Street, I’ll be there.

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Farewell to Funny Man Robin Williams

Robin Williams is dead. I am reading the headlines and watching the news blanket the Internet. But my mind is not computing this fact.

I scroll through smiling photos of him as one by one my Facebook friends post their tributes, and I just can’t believe he is gone. That face, the face of a thousand expressions. That voice, so cleverly altered in one parody after another with his trademark rapid-fire delivery.

I remember his appearances on talk shows.

Whether it was Johnny Carson or Letterman or Oprah, his staccato stream of consciousness left the hosts in the dust and the audience in paroxysms of laughter. Maybe they had planned on an interview, but he had his own agenda, and it was best to give him the spotlight and let him do what he did.

Because, damn, Robin Williams was funny.

I feel shock, deep sadness. Like he was more than a celebrity to me, someone closer. My friends are posting similar sentiments.

Why? Maybe it’s because he was one of us – one of my generation. Although many fans know him for his movies in the 80s and 90s, we knew him first when he made his television debut in 1978 as that loveable alien in Mork and Mindy. His “nanu nanu” quickly became part of pop culture, and he captured our hearts.

His talent was obvious.

Mork and Mindy was just the beginning of a remarkable career.

From standup comedy to sitcoms to dramatic roles, he showed the breadth of talent throughout his career. He was amazingly good. Just read through the list of his movies – The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Will Hunting, Good Morning, Vietnam, Hook; Mrs. Doubtfire — so memorable, so timeless.

The accolades will come. Genius, one of a kind, maestro of comedy. Irreplaceable. All true.

Yes, he was a comic genius. But then he got into dramatic roles, and, who knew? He could do that, too.

The reports are he died of a suicide. That he struggled with addiction and depression, and that’s what got him in the end. How such a funny man could lose the will to live, to find nothing to live for, not his family or friends or the love of his worldwide audience, is an illustration of just how insidious the disease is.

We don’t know how and why he could no longer cope, why he sank into that maelstrom of despair. Was he getting help? Probably. But it wasn’t enough to calm his demons.

On his Twitter page, one of his last tweets is wishing his 25 year-old daughter, Zelda, a happy birthday.

I remember when she was born. He talked about his little baby, Zelda, on one of the talk shows I watched, because I always tuned in when he made an appearance.

If only someone could have saved him.

Farewell Funny Man Robin Williams

Rest in peace, funny man. The world will not be the same without you.

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Why I Admired Shirley Temple

Shirley_Temple

Shirley_Temple (Photo credit: hto2008)

With the passing of child star Shirley Temple at the age of 85, a luminous presence has left us.

Shirley Temple’s career as a child actor enthralled our country at a time when economic tensions gripped most families and just about everyone could use a laugh.  Shirley was, as they used to say, the real ticket. Fresh faced and dimpled with that sweet voice, she was adorable without being pretentious, as natural on screen as you could imagine her in your living room. Radiating star power, she tap-danced her way into everyone’s heart.

And oh, her curly hair. Had anyone ever given ringlets the cachet that she did?

Shirley’s movie career began years before I was born, but as a child I watched her black and white movies on Saturday afternoon television. I remember being star struck by the gumption of this miniature ball of fire, the way she sang as clear as a bell and danced so effortlessly. You couldn’t help but be tickled by her sunny disposition and her obvious delight in entertaining.

And a s child, I liked the way she held her own with adults. In my day you were always expected to be deferential to adults. Shirley was never rude, but she stood up for herself. No matter who were her co-stars, she upstaged every one of them.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple (Photo credit: isaddora)

When I think of Shirley Temple, I picture her singing “On the Good Ship Lollypop” or “Animal Crackers in my Soup.” I remember her in “The Littlest Colonel” and “Bright Eyes.” And I certainly remember having my own Shirley Temple doll.

Unlike many child stars whose acting careers end with their childhood years, Shirley went on to pursue another career, as a U.S. ambassador. As a role model, she could not have been more influential on young girls, including me. I remember thinking how exceptional she was for striking out on a new career and being successful at it.

When she publicly discussed her breast cancer in order to help other women, I again was struck by another way she spread good throughout the country.

But there was something else. Along with the naturally curly hair, Shirley and I shared the same birthday. That was a quirk of happenstance that nonetheless gave me a sense of pride, to be connected to her that way.

As a little girl she was America’s sweetheart, and as an adult she was the kind of role model we want for our daughters.

We will miss you, Shirley Temple. Rest in peace.

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The Day President Kennedy Died

funeral of John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Fifty years ago today, life as we knew it changed with a bullet and a blood-spattered pink suit.

It was Friday afternoon in Miss Seiler’s fifth grade class. For the short time left in the day we were allowed to work on a project in small groups. There was a low hum of activity in the room as we chatted with each other, a bit of restlessness, as dismissal was just about an hour away.

Miss Seiler had sent one of the boys to the office to deliver an attendance slip. When he returned he mumbled something about someone being shot. The buzz in the room escalated audibly with nervous laughter. We thought it was a joke. Some of the boys pretended to point a gun and said bang bang, you’re dead, and we giggled.

The Long Ride in Silence

My parents and younger brother were waiting outside for me that day. We were leaving straight from school to travel across the state to my grandmother’s for a pre-Thanksgiving visit. As soon as I got in the car I knew something was terribly wrong.

They told me that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. I remember that long, somber ride in the car, with spotty reception of AM radio as we crossed over the mountains. My parents struggled to answer my questions. “Why? Why would anyone want to do this?” I wailed.

We spent most of the weekend in front of my grandmother’s black and white TV. This was a new thing, this round-the-clock coverage that we are so used to today. Walter Cronkite, visibly shaken when he took off his glasses and announced JFK’s death, steered us through these first few days of confusion and sorrow.

Cronkite announcing the death of President Ken...

Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember the sadness of Jackie’s stricken face at the funeral, people lining the street and sobbing, John-John’s salute as his father’s casket passed by.

funeral of John F. Kennedy, Jr.There was another story being reported about John-John.. Someone had given him a toy flag to play with. “Can I have another one to give to my father?’ he was reported to have asked. That broke my 10 year-old heart.

I had felt an emotional connection to President Kennedy. Perhaps it was the romance of Camelot, perhaps his charisma, the allure of the Kennedy family. Maybe it was because several years earlier he had smiled at me.

He Smiled at Me

When JFK was running for President he made a campaign stop in my city, and my mother and I drove downtown to see. There were people lined up and down the city streets. The air was electric with excitement.

We got there too late, or we weren’t in the right place, and we missed it. Gloomily we walked back to the car. But then miraculously the motorcade appeared on the side street where we were parked. JFK’s car passed right by and he waved and smiled at us.

He was my President. From then on, I idolized him and his glamorous, soft-spoken wife and his adorable children.

The World Would Never Be the Same

In a way, the 1950s ended that day in 1963, I felt the change, the loss of innocence. The world no longer felt predictable and safe.

This feeling of despair would strike again, in April 1968 when Martin Luther King was killed, and again in June when Robert F. Kennedy was killed.

I remember the morning when I heard about RFK. My clock radio had clicked on at 7 a.m. with the shocking news that I could only barely comprehend, and, tears streaming down my face, I ran into my parents room to tell them.

They tried to soothe me, thinking I had had a nightmare about JFK, but of course the nightmare was that violence had claimed another life full of promise. The nation was again thrown into turmoil.

 

To commemorate this anniversary, my blogging friends at Midlife Boulevard are sharing their own experiences. Click on the links below to read their stories.

 

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Amy Robach Announces She Has Breast Cancer

getting a mammogram

As someone who works from home, I am not the type to need absolute stillness in order to concentrate. In fact, I find a little background noise to be a welcome companion in my empty house.

Even with family and chaos surrounding me, I am able to get in the zone when the creative urge strikes. I can write while sitting next to my husband who watches Monday Night Football very, let’s say, interactively, or peck away while my children and their friends clatter about.

So even though morning news is usually a background drone that accompanies my first cup of coffee as I get to work, I happened to catch a segment yesterday that caused me to stop what I was doing and pay attention.

Amy Robach, an ABC reporter for Good Morning America, announced on air that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and will undergo a double mastectomy this week. It was a shocking piece of true reality TV.

But that’s not the whole story.

As she described it to the viewers, she had to be convinced to get a routine mammogram. Busy with her family and career, she knew as a 40 year-old woman it was time, but kept putting it off. She was healthy, took care of herself, and there was no history of cancer in her family.

Ultimately, she was persuaded by her colleagues at GMA to undergo the procedure on air (but obscured from view) as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, with the hope that viewers might be inspired to do likewise.

Her friend and GMA colleague, Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor herself, told her that if she saved one life by doing this, it would be worth it.

Little did Amy know that the life she would save would be her own.

The procedure went smoothly and she got high fives from her colleagues. Done, she thought.

But then she got the dreaded phone call. getting a mammogram

Turns out the mammogram images were abnormal. She was called back to undergo more tests. And then more tests. Finally, she received the shattering news.

Amy faced the cameras yesterday to tell this story. Visibly shaken, she nonetheless put on a brave face and said she was ready to fight this disease. She credited her producers and colleagues for pushing her to do this, for saving her life.

I applaud her for the decision to go public with this story is so that others may learn. My heart goes out to her and her family, and I pray that the early detection will mean she will win the fight against this terrible disease and, like Robin Roberts, show other women through her example the importance of getting a mammogram.

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10 Lessons Midlifers Can Learn From Diana Nyad

We have a new athletic superstar to applaud this morning: the amazing swimmer, Diana Nyad.

If you saw her wading haltingly onto the shore of Key West after this historic swim, you had to feel her sheer exhaustion along with the thrill of her incredible feat.

swimmer Diana Nyad

She finally realized her “Xtreme Dream,” her long-sought goal of swimming the distance from Cuba to Florida, a herculean effort that took 58 hours.

I’m not the only midlifer virtually high-fiving Diana for showing the world what a 64 year-old can do. Her words of wisdom once she arrived on sandy Key West shore?

“I have three messages,” Nyad said. “One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.”

Her three inspirational messages bear repeating.

1.         Never, Ever Give Up. This woman tried five times. Five times! The first time was when she was in her twenties. She. Never. Gave. Up.

2.         You are Never Too Old to Stop Chasing Your Dream. She did not use her advancing years as an excuse for not trying hard, harder and hardest. She did not think, as some of us might, “I am in my 60s and too old to reach my goal. I’m going to rock in my rocking chair and dream of what could have been.”

3.         There is No “I” in TEAM. She swam the 110 miles by herself. She should get all the credit. But her 35-person crew was right there with her, making sure she was safe, providing her with nourishment, and undoubtedly keeping her spirits high. She is wise enough to know that she couldn’t have done it without their support.

Forgive me if I am being presumptuous for adding a few more.

4.         Physical Fitness is Forever. I don’t know how Diana Nyad stayed in the shape required for this feat. But clearly she has never stopped working out at an extreme level.

5.         Know Your Limits. Why did the last four attempts fail? I remember storms, sharks and jellyfish thwarting her effort.  I remember footage of her crying when she had to call an end to one of her attempts. Bitterly disappointed she surely was, but sensible enough to know when it was time to get out of the water.

6.         Follow Your Heart.  Why was this so meaningful to her? When a reporter once asked British climber George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, he famously replied, “Because it’s there.” Diana Nyad wanted to be the first person to complete this route without the safety net of a shark cage. Just because. And that was enough.

7.         Jump Back in the Water. Or get back on the horse. Pull yourself together and get back in that ring or on that playing field. Don’t give up because it is the easy thing to do. Force yourself to keep on keeping on.

8.         Focus on Your Strengths. The woman is 64. Obviously she does not have the abilities of a much younger athlete. So how did she compensate? What was her strategy? Did she work more on her upper body or her leg strength? Only her trainer knows the answer to that.

9.         Ignore the Naysayers. Were there naysayers? Maybe, maybe not. Have the self-confidence so if there are, you can tell them to bugger off.

10.       Don’t Stop Believing. She never did. She knew she could do it. And she was right.

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Remembering a Gentle Man

In a land far, far away lay the village of Mt. Penn, nestled between rolling hills and verdant farmland. It was a town like many others, with its shopkeepers and schools and daily rhythms, but a comfortable home to families who had settled there and remained, generation after generation.

Among these families were a man and his wife who had made their way to Mt. Penn from Russia to find a better life. It was not easy, at least not at first. The man rose early in the morning and came home late at night, doing his best to eke out a living. The wife worked tirelessly all day in their simple home, cooking, cleaning and washing the clothes.

The couple was blessed with four sons whom they treasured. The first- and second-born were full of energy and, honestly, were a handful. The fourth son was born some years later.

The third boy, nicknamed Laibel, was the quiet son. So amiable was he that his mother at times forgot he was around. With household chores and two active boys occupying her day, she was relieved that Laibel demanded so little.

Family legend has it that one day, distracted by the tumult in the house, she plopped Laibel in a stroller and positioned him in the front yard, thinking the fresh air and sunshine would do him good. Hours later, when she remembered she had left him there, she found him sitting exactly as she had left him, but sunburned on one side of his face.

Laibel grew into a fine young man, an easygoing person with many friends. He loved sports. When he followed his older brother to the land of Penn State, he became the most avid Nittany Lion fan and remained so for the rest of his life.

After college he returned to Mt. Penn and soon met the beauteous Joan, who became his wife. Joan was welcomed with joy into the family, especially by her niece, who admired her for her style and warmth and wanted to be just like her when she grew up.

And then the babies arrived, three boys, Samuel, Budd and Daniel, who like their father were sweet and gentle and grew into fine men. Two grandchildren, Alex and Abby, were the source of much love and pride.

Laibel’s life was full. But in every life there are doses of joy and sorrow, and his was no exception.

He was still a young man, just in his early forties, when he was struck by a disease that would rob him of a normal life, slowly destroying his handsome face and eventually rendering him silent. He did not complain. Instead, he stayed involved in the lives of his children and grandchildren. He attended soccer matches and graduations and holiday gatherings, still silent, but very much a presence.

This week he quietly slipped away, no longer suffering, leaving a legacy of love and dignity that will not be forgotten.

Uncle Lew

Lew (left), and his brothers Lee and Irv

I love you, Uncle Lew.

In memory of Lewis M. Cohen

1929-2013

 

 

 

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Cheeky Cherubs

Can I share my latest obsession? I can’t help but smile when I think of them: the precious pint-size duo from Essex, England, the little British girls who are taking this country by storm. On the cuteness scale, they are way off the charts. Meet Sophia Grace and Rosie.

Sophia Grace, pictured right above, and Rosie, eight and five years old respectively, are precious moppets who favor Easter egg-hued tutus and sparkly tiaras. They came to the attention of The Ellen Show because of a video showcasing Sophia Grace’s talent, natural charm and boundless energy. Their very first appearance launched these sensations into instant celebrity.

Sophia Grace is crazy about rock music and rock artists, and not only has talent, but an uncanny ability to memorize lyrics as well as strut like a pro on stage. Her breadth of knowledge of songs and artists is incredible, and her renditions are sweet and soulful. Cousin Rosie, her “hype girl,” is there for moral support and cheerfully accompanies her partner on stage. Sophia Grace likes having her there “because she gives me confidence,” she said in her sweet little clipped British voice.

The girls returned to The Ellen Show and were treated to a surprise visit from Sophia Grace’s idol, Nikki Minaj.

You can see that Nikki is completely blown away by the awesomeness of her protegé, and Sophia Grace is beyond excited to meet Nikki.

Ellen has had the girls back several times. In this clip, The Ellen Show flew them out to Hollywood to walk the red carpet at the Grammys, a dream come true for Sophia Grace. So adorable.

And just one more.

This segment is “Tea Time with Sophia Grace and Rosie,” guest starring Taylor Swift. To die for!

Have you fallen in love yet?

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THON 2012 Makes an Impact

I am achy, bleary-eyed and yawning incessantly this morning. But so very happy.

For those of you who don’t know the magic that is THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, let me explain.

AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey

Officially known as The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON was started 40 years ago by Penn State students who wanted to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Inspired by the story of Christopher Millard, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11, they earmarked all their proceeds for Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital Four Diamonds Fund which supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Christopher’s parents, Charles and Irma Millard, established the Four Diamonds Fund in his memory. Before he succumbed to the disease at age 14, Christopher wrote a story about a knight searching for four diamonds — Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength — that would release him from captivity by an evil sorceress.

It is unthinkable; the worst nightmare possible. Your child is sick, not getting better. You are delirious with worry. Imagine hearing the words no parent ever wants to hear. Picture being wracked with fear, grief, anxiety. That’s where the Four Diamonds Fund comes in. The Fund offsets the cost of treatment that insurance doesn’t cover, and takes cares of expenses incurred by the child and family, making sure that of all the things to worry about, finances won’t be one of them.

To raise money, students plan events throughout the year, most visibly on “canning” weekends, when students fan out into communities to solicit donations. Since canning weekends are in the late fall and early winter, it is usually freezing cold. But Penn State students don’t let a little cold slow them down.

All the Penn State campuses are involved. Alumni groups pitch in. Even high schools have “mini THONS.” More than 350 groups and organizations are involved with THON, and about 15,000 Penn State students volunteer in some capacity. Imagine all that goes into an undertaking of this magnitude, and then remember that this is completely student-run. Clearly, Penn State students are the most amazing in the world.

THON weekend is in February and is held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus. Seven hundred students are on their feet for 46 hours, and 15,000 people fill the stands (and “stands” is the operative word; no one sits) to cheer them on. Brightly colored t-shirts identify each participating organization.  The energy is extraordinary; everyone is always moving, dancing, cheering, singing, swaying, clapping.  THON weekend is a combination of rock concert, revival meeting, circus, song fest, dance, pep rally, costume party, exercise workout, and bonding experience, and that’s just the beginning. I still haven’t found the words to adequately describe THON.

students make the "diamond" sign

THON kids and their families are the VIPs. Many of the parents say that their kids love THON as much as Christmas. The kids get to be kids and have an entire weekend of fun. Some of them perform on stage. Most of them are happy to run around the floor and play with the Penn State dancers. There are spirited water pistol battles, piggyback rides, face painting, bubble blowing, and lots of hugging.

photo by 6ABC

Although the ambiance is mostly festive, there are moments of deep sadness. Several THON families share their stories, and not all of them have a happy ending. We cheer at the videos of children who have beaten the disease, and sob at the ones portraying kids who have lost the battle. It is because of them that we will keep fighting until no child has to endure this terrible fate, and no parent has to hear that grim diagnosis. We THON FTK: For the Kids.

Bryce Carter, on crutches, and his family. His mom describes his ongoing battle with cancer. AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey.

Penn State students raised $10.6 million for the kids this year. This shatters last year’s total by more than a million dollars. Like everyone else, I was on my feet for the better part of two and a half days. I am beyond exhausted, but bursting with love and Penn State pride.

Joe Paterno left us with a mandate: make an impact. Thank you, Penn State students, for doing just that. FTK.

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Joe and Bear

The man in the blue windbreaker looked perplexed. Squinting in the bright light, he waved away a swirl of clouds, searching for a familiar face. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses clean, then replaced them, blinking.  All at once he broke into a grin.

“Hey stranger!” he called to the tall guy with the houndstooth hat.

“Winningest coach, eh?” smiled the elder man. “Good to see you, buddy.”

Blue Windbreaker caught up and fell into step. “After I saw what happened when you retired, well … ” he faltered.

“I know. Kind of surprised me too, but I guess it was my time.”

“Heck of a thing,” Blue Windbreaker said. “If you’d have told me I’d still be coaching at the age of  85, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But you know how it is, hard to let go. Just one more season, I thought.”

“You had, what, 409 wins? Five undefeated seasons? Two national championships?” Houndstooth Hat asked, “Not too shabby.”

“And you had six national championships,” Blue Windbreaker said. “That’s some kind of career.”

“The last time we met up was, let’s see, October 9, 1982 in Birmingham,” mused Houndstooth Hat. “You guys were number three and we were number four. Remember?”

Blue Windbreaker winced. “Sure do. You beat us 42-21. I’ve had a hard time forgetting.”

“I think I remember every loss. Every gosh darned one.”

“Hey, you do the best you can and most times come out OK. In life, too.” Blue Windbreaker paused. “There were mistakes made, things I wish I had done differently. Regrets.”

Houndstooth Hat nodded solemnly.

“The facts will be learned. The verdict will come out,” he said softly. “But trust me, old friend. Your legacy will endure.”

“You know they gave me a statue by the stadium,” Blue Windbreaker said. “It says:

‘They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.'”

_________

Disclaimer: The conversation in this post is 100% fictional and was created by me.

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