Penn State Faces First Game Without 'JoePa'

After a week of child sex abuse charges that resulted in the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, Penn State University plays its final home game of the season on Saturday. Students are holding a vigil and fundraising events ahead of the game against Nebraska. NPR's Jeff Brady has the latest in the wake of the scandal.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. At noon today, Pennsylvania State University will play its final home game of this football season. Penn State is hosting Nebraska, but that match-up is not what everyone on campus is talking about. A child sexual abuse scandal has hung over the university all week. A former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been accused of sexually abusing eight young boys starting in the late-'90s. Two high-level administrators are charged with failing to report the abuse. Fallout from the scandal has been swift. On Wednesday, the board of trustees fired the university's president and longtime coach Joe Paterno. Last night, thousands gathered for a candlelight vigil for the victims. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Former Penn State and then pro football player LaVar Arrington delivered a speech that clearly moved many of those holding their candles in near-freezing temperatures.

LAVAR ARRINGTON: We have been a close family for so long, so for something as evil as this to come into the midst of our family...

BRADY: For his Penn State family, Arrington said the best reaction is to view the current situation as a call to duty.

ARRINGTON: This is a challenge for all of us. The worst crime that we can commit right now is to leave here and forget what happened.

BRADY: Arrington said it's on Penn State to protect the victims and repair the school's reputation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CROWD: (Singing) For the glory of old state...

BRADY: As the crowd sang the Penn State Alma Mater, it was clear this vigil was about more than raising awareness of child sexual abuse. Many were thinking about the protests last Wednesday that were broken up by police in riot gear and hoping a more positive gathering would eclipse the memory of that negative one. Brian Fowler is a grad student.

BRAD FOWLER: The fact that we saw all the destruction and the riots from some people, but now we come here and see a lot of hope. That restores faith in the university and humanity, for that matter.

BRADY: Nearby, Bill Porcek, whose daughter is a senior at Penn State, has been thinking a lot about the events of the past week.

BILL PORCEK: I feel bad for some of the victims because they're going to be out in the press, people are going to be searching them out and I think life is going to be even more difficult for them today.

BRADY: While the vigil was fairly somber, this is the evening before a big football game in a football-crazy town. So it doesn't take long for Porcek's wife Jill to turn the conversation back to the game.

JILL PORCEK: Well, I just hope that the fans come out, support the team and the seniors that are there and the new leadership. And let's just move on and go, Penn State.

PORCEK: Yeah, exactly. We're hoping for a win. That would definitely make the weekend a much more positive event than what has happened over the last week, for sure.

BRADY: Across campus at the stadium, people have been camped out in tents since Monday, hoping to get the best seats when tickets go on sale this morning.

LAUREN TEECE: This has been going on since 2004, officially, but people have been camping out since the '90s.

BRADY: Lauren Teece says camping out like this is a tradition and the community is called Paternoville, after Joe Paterno, who had been head coach for more than four decades before he was fired Wednesday. Student Jeffrey Lowe says there's no plan to change the name.

JEFFREY LOWE: To be completely honest, the reason we will not change it right this second is because there's logistical things involved. You know, we have merchandise.

BRADY: There are T-shirts, and the Facebook and Twitter accounts carry the Paternoville name. But student Brad Vasco says even more important, it may be too soon to pass judgment.

BRAD VASCO: We all love Joe and you don't want to just rip his name away until you know all the facts. Like, a year or so from now when things are determined and a lot more details have come out.

BRADY: Many of those details likely will be revealed as a criminal investigation continues and the university has launched its own internal investigation, too. But for now, the focus is on today's football game. Given all the attention Penn State has received this week, university officials say they've beefed up security for the game. Jeff Brady, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania.

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