Posts tagged ‘Men of ’47’

Penn State Football: Last of a Dying Breed? Michael Weinreb Thinks So

You won’t find one of Penn State’s trademark bland uniforms on the cover of the new book by Michael Weinreb ’94, and you won’t find Joe Paterno’s picture there, either. But Penn State football—particularly the 1986 Orange Bowl team and the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and national championship team—was part of the inspiration for Bigger Than the Game: Bo, Boz, the Punky QB, and How the ’80s Created the Modern Athlete.

We know this because Weinreb adapted part of his book into an essay for our September/October issue, which we finished this week and will be arriving in your mailboxes in a couple of weeks. He writes often for us—most recently, our November/December cover story on the Men of ’47—and we’re all eager to read more of the book than the essay, which contrasts Penn State football with those guys on the book cover, Bo Jackson, Jim McMahon, and most notably Brian Bosworth.

The book came out Thursday, so Weinreb has been making the media rounds—it’s highly possible you’ll catch him doing a radio interview on a station near you. And while you’re waiting for our magazine, you can check out this interview that Weinreb did with the blog Sports Crackle Pop, and this piece that he wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

August 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm 1 comment

Something to Cheer About for Betty Jean Love Gibbs

Betty, left, and her daughter Cynthia pose after the special presentation at Sunday's City Lights event.

Like the rest of the staff, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading back issues of The Penn Stater and its predecessor, Penn State Alumni News, because we’re approaching the magazine’s 100th anniversary. I’ve learned a lot about Penn State history, so I figured I was well-prepared for the Alumni Association’s City Lights event Sunday in Pittsburgh. It was staged at the new August Wilson Center for African-American Culture, and the title of the lecture by Courtney L. Young, librarian and professor of women’s studies at Penn State Beaver, was “Famous African-American Penn Staters.”

And, yes, I knew the basics about the Penn Staters whose lives Young highlighted. But it was the tale of a woman I’d never heard of—and whose story was nearly lost—that made the biggest impression on me.

Betty Jean Love Gibbs ’56 arrived at Penn State as a talented dancer and gymnast. But when she wanted to try out for the cheerleading squad in 1953, she was told that was impossible. “Negroes are not allowed on the squad,” officials told her.

The story shocked me. Just two issues ago, we featured the Men of ’47, the Penn State football team that refused to play without its two black players and integrated the Cotton Bowl. How was it possible that just a few years later, a black woman wasn’t allowed to be on the cheerleading squad?

Darryl Daisey ’83, who researched Gibbs’ story, isn’t sure, but he has a theory. “In the late 1940s, Penn State was pretty progressive,” he said after the program. “But some things were still taboo, and that included interracial dating and dancing.” He thinks that cheerleading may have fallen into a similar category.

Daisey learned about Gibbs from Charles Blockson ’56, an African-American history expert, and he tracked down the details for his Web site, www.pennstateblackhistory.com. He then told her story at Sunday’s City Lights event, and he and the Alumni Association made a special presentation to Gibbs, giving her a prize-winning photo of her dancing that was taken by Penn State faculty member Edward Leos, a proclamation from Penn State cheerleading coach Curtis White naming her an honorary cheerleader, and her very own official Penn State cheerleading uniform.

Gibbs didn’t let the cheerleading setback hold her back. She competed at the 1956 U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, and after graduating with a physical education degree, she worked at various YWCAs, danced professionally in New York, and opened Love’s Academy of Dance when she moved back to her hometown, Pittsburgh. She also taught at Pittsburgh’s acclaimed high school for the Creative and Performing Arts.

“I enjoyed my life at Penn State,” Gibbs told the gathering of alumni. “There were some things we could do, and some things we couldn’t do but did anyway. We got an education, and that was the important part.”

You can read more about Love and some of the other prominent black Penn Staters in this story (which had a lot of help from Daisey) from Monday’s Centre Daily Times. And you can find out more about upcoming City Lights programs, which reach out to alumni in five major metropolitan areas (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, New York, and Washington, D.C.) here.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

March 1, 2010 at 11:18 pm 9 comments

Penn State’s ‘Men of ’47,’ In Print and Online

Cover_ND09_FIf they haven’t already, Alumni Association members should be receiving their copies of our Nov./Dec. issue in the next few days, and I imagine most will notice the unusual (for us) cover design—that’s it on the right. The corresponding feature, written by Michael Weinreb ’94, tells the story of the post-World War II football teams that helped establish Penn State nationally as both a top program and unheralded force in the nation’s slow march to racial justice.

The response to the story—not just to our feature, but to the relatively unknown story of the men who made up these great teams, and who, legend has it, inspired the University’s iconic “We Are…” chant—has been overwhelming. After the surviving team members were guests of honor during the Association’s recent Homecoming festivities, we decided we wanted to share this story as widely as we could. You can now access a PDF version of our new cover story by clicking here.

We also hope to have a video feature up soon that provides even more historical context for the on- and off-field impact of those teams. Keep an eye out for that next week.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm 18 comments


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