University Park, Pa. — As participants in the first-ever Penn State Football Ladies Xs and Os Camp made the right turn from the football team’s locker room and into the tunnel leading to the hallowed grass field at Beaver Stadium, there were gasps and cheers of excitement. The camp’s participants, who came from far and wide to get a real taste of the inner workings of Penn State football, suddenly found themselves standing at the epicenter of the Nittany Lion universe.
“This is just awesome; you have to hide the tears when you walk out onto the field for the first time,” said Teddy Bolton, a camper from Wyoming, Ohio. A 1981 Penn State graduate, she used to sell refreshments in the stands as a student. “Penn State football always was just so exciting to me. I used to sit up in the stands, and sold sodas in the stands, but to be down here on the field is just unbelievable. I’m a real football fan, and it’s just overwhelming to be out here on the field.”
Bolton was one of 50 women who participated in the inaugural football camp, held Friday, June 11, on Penn State’s University Park campus. A broad cross-section of female Penn State fans, from teenagers to grandmothers, attended the one-day camp to receive instruction from Penn State football coaches. Mike McQueary, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Penn State, said the camp, which is an offshoot of the University’s annual Football Fantasy Camp for men, was designed to give participants an insight into the ins and outs of Penn State football.
“We’re here to help you out and to help you learn about football,” McQueary told the group as they assembled for a morning briefing before the day’s first classroom session on offensive strategy. “You’re all going to be exposed to techniques and plays that we drill with our guys on a daily basis. This day is going to be set up like it’s one of our two-a-day practices during August football camp and we’re going to get after you a little bit.”
In the locker room, McQueary, joined by several of the team’s graduate assistants, taught participants offensive and defensive basics — blocking schemes, position names and functions — and shared stories. Camp participant and Penn State alumna Linda Lowe said the classroom instruction really gave her insight into the intricacies of the game.
“It was interesting, informative and I learned something. Everybody I know loves football, and I love football, so to be able to learn more about it is great,” said Lowe. “I learned what a reduction is — do you know what a reduction is?”
After on-field offensive practice and a break for lunch, campers heard from the football team’s equipment manager, Brad “Spider” Caldwell, who told them about the equipment that players wear and shared stories from his 28 years on the Penn State sideline. The helmets, padded with high-tech foam; the jerseys, made from lightweight nylon fabric commonly found in women’s brassieres; the shoes, colored with black Sharpies and white nail polish if they don’t look just right. Participants got a first-hand look at many of the pieces of the Penn State uniform and took photographs of each other wearing what is arguably the most recognizable piece of Nittany Lion apparel, the classic single-striped, white helmet.
Suzann Tedesco, a Penn State football fan and member of the State College Quarterback Club, said she signed up for the Ladies Xs and Os Football Camp as soon as she heard about it.
“At Quarterback Club we’ve been bugging Head Coach Joe Paterno about having something similar to the men’s camp for the ladies. Give us a seminar, have a class, or something,” Tedesco said. “This is much more than I expected. Though I am a big fan, I couldn’t ever remember catching a football in my life, so my husband went and bought me one and he’s been throwing it at me — I’ve been in training for the last two weeks.”
Tedesco, along with 49 of her fellow campers, put the day’s drills to work that afternoon on the grass at Beaver Stadium before a crowd of cheering friends and family.
“This is pretty amazing and surreal; I never thought in a million years that I’d be standing here on the field at Beaver Stadium,” said camper Nikki Pekarski, who scored one of the game’s two touchdowns. “This is something that a lot of people, if they’re not a player, will never get to experience. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do this today.”
Larry Johnson, Penn State’s defensive coordinator, was on the sideline for the game. As he watched participants strap on flags and execute plays en route to a 7-7 tie, he expressed enthusiasm and also a bit of envy.
“I think this is wonderful. To have 50 ladies involved in something like this the first time is pretty amazing. There’s just so much interest in Penn State football. It really is a testament to Coach Paterno and the program, that these ladies want to come be a part of this,” Johnson said. “They get to play on the field. I’ve been coaching here for 15 years and I’ve never played on this field, so you can see the value of what they’re getting right now. Inside we’re all kind of jealous that they get to do this, because we don’t get to do this as coaches. So this is pretty awesome, I think it’s a great idea, and it looks like everybody’s having fun.”
After the game, campers were hugged, high-fived and photographed by their families on the field before they hopped onto buses and took a ride to the Louis and Mildred Lasch Football Building. The group toured the building, which is the Penn State football team’s primary training facility and home to the coaching staff’s offices, before finishing the day with dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn.
Trish Boyer, an alumna who traveled to State College from Washington, D.C., to participate, said she had a great time.
“This has been one of the most fun days I’ve ever had,” Boyer said. “This has been an awesome day and a lot of fun. The whole day — what we learned from the coaching staff, playing out on the field — it has just been a blast.”
Patrick Steenberge, who runs Global Football Inc. and who coordinated the event along with assistant coach Jay Paterno, has run football camps in the past, but never one for women. He said he hopes to hold a similar camp again next year.
“Hopefully these participants go home and tell their families about this — hopefully we can just keep extending it and building on it,” Steenberge said.
McQueary, who said he came into the day nervous and unsure of what to expect, said he felt the day was a success.
“We had different age groups and different levels of athleticism, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It’s different than a bunch of guys getting together and playing football — it’s just a different aura. I’ll tell you what, the ladies have been great,” McQueary said.
“I think the big thing I want participants to come away with is a sense that football isn’t just going out there on Saturdays and running around. There is a lot of work and effort put in by the kids,” he said. “I hope they come away with a greater understanding of Xs and Os, and what is happening during the course of a game.”