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A sad day in Happy Valley

Published November 10. 2011 05:01PM

The impact of longtime Nittany Lions coach Joe "JoePa" Paterno's abrupt firing late Wednesday for failing to report to police alleged child sexual abuse by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky triggered violent student riots and sent shock waves through the true blue-and-white fans here in the coal region.

With Penn State's big game against Nebraska only days away, university trustees fired Paterno, whose coaching tenure at Penn State stretched over 61 years, and college president Graham Spanier, after news surfaced that Paterno knew about the sexual abuse since a graduate assistant Mike McQueary had reported seeing Sandusky, now 67, naked and assaulting a young boy in the college's football complex shower room in 2002.

Paterno did report a milder version of the incident to his supervisor, Tim Curley, technically adhering to the law. However, he did not tell police, and the attack went unpunished.

The scandal and Paterno's firing has left local Penn State fans reeling

"Thank God they canned him," said Andy Poli of Coaldale.

Larry Neff of West Penn Township is a longtime fan.

"I'm 46 years a Lions fan. I started going out in Paterno's first year as head coach, 1966," he said.

"It was justified. Joe wasn't fired because of what he did. Joe was fired because of what he didn't do," Neff said. He is dismayed with Paterno's lack of follow-through.

Neff was outraged by McQueary's role in the scandal.

"Why didn't McQueary stop it? He ran out of the building and went to his daddy rather than grabbing Sandusky and pulling him off the kid," he said.

"The biggest question of all is, what did Mike McQueary tell him? If McQueary told him in depth what happened, Joe Paterno deserved to be fired. If he (reported the incident as less serious than it was), then Paterno should have faced some consequences," Neff said.

Nonetheless, Neff believes that "Paterno has become arrogant. He got what he deserved. My prediction is that Joe will be arrested."

Franklin Klock of Summit Hill was ambivalent.

"I have mixed feelings about Penn State this morning," he said. "First and foremost, the children involved must be supported and not forgotten in the mess the media has made. Place focus on victim support and processing Jerry Sandusky, not the college football program. The removal of the university president and head football coach shows that PSU may have in place, and is backing a zero-tolerance policy, as they should.

"My guess is that more employees will be removed before all of this is sorted out. Then, there is the disappointment and shame a school in our home state now has to endure. The vast majority of PSU students and alumni are not part of the State College protests and, I'm sure, many fully support the decisions made by university officials, the angry mobs and select few individuals shown on television are not helping matters."

Amy Gilbert Hochberg-Paules of Coaldale said the focus should be not on whether Paterno should have been fired, but rather on the victims.

"No matter what, they are/were in charge of our older children, and why would you not jump through hoops to get to the bottom of it? I would have never let it rest.

"These young men are out there playing not just because they love the game but because of the possibility of becoming the next NFL players, and I assume they would do about anything to achieve that goal. The adults are the ones who are supposed to be safeguarding them, not the people who are harming them, or hiding things due to the respect of fans," she said.

Linda Newswanger of Cressona expressed similar thoughts.

"Don't forget the children. Somehow they have become an after-thought," she said. "The comments are 'oh yeah, I'm sorry for their pain' as the speaker is turning to retreat into their home."

Cheri Santore of Nesquehoning wants people to step back and think the situation through before rushing to judgment.

"I think it's a shame what happened, and I think that JoePa is a scapegoat. Who are we to judge his moral character? I challenge anyone to go to law enforcement with thirdhand information about a crime and see how far it goes. As far as child abuse investigations, they are confidential. As a mandated reporter, try to follow up on a report and you will be told 'it's being investigated'," she said.

"Should Joe have anonymously called a widely published child abuse hot line? Sure. But when he is not the target or subject in the investigation, and the investigation is not even completed? Why jump the gun? What about the eye witness who still has a job? What about the children? If that was my child, I would have personally pursued the matter, no matter who the 'alleged perpetrator' was, and I would not have stopped until justice was served," Santore said.

"It makes me wonder how much the board knew. Too many unanswered questions to lay the focus and blame on one man," she said.

Tom Briel of Orwigsburg summed it up with a quote from a friend of his.

"Thousands of people want to stand up for JoePa, but it could've been avoided if just one person would've stood up for a 10-year-old boy," he said.

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