Years in the making: Alumni mixer sold out and ready to rock Pittsburgh

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series previewing the renewal of the Penn State-Pitt football series. The first story highlighted the Alumni Association’s Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, including details on how you can get involved.

Sept. 10, 2016.

This is the date that Kathy Kasperik and the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association have looked forward to for years.

Really. Years.

And now it’s nearly here.

On Dec. 7, 2012, Penn State’s Intercollegiate Athletics announced that the Penn State-Pitt football series would come back to life with a four-game series from 2016 to 2019.

Sure, it caught the attention of the Pittsburgh Chapter, and Kasperik and her group knew they’d do something, but as Kasperik said, “You thought, ‘Oh, that’s in 2016. That’s forever away.’”

Now, that’s changed, with Kasperik joking last week that she had a little panic attack when she realized that something that once seemed so far in the future is now less than a few days away.

Don’t worry. She’s ready. Everybody is ready.  

“Oh my gosh, this has been …” Kasperik said, her words trailing off as she thought about the enormous amount of work that she and the chapter have put into planning the upcoming weekend.

“When it’s all said and done, it’ll be close to 15 months of planning and organizing and collaborating,” she said.  

Along with the Penn State Alumni Association and the Smeal College of Business, the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter will co-host an alumni mixer Friday night, Sept. 9, at the Hard Rock Café on Station Square Drive in Pittsburgh. The night will feature entertainment from the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes — and pre-recorded Blue Band music will play through the speakers to provide even more of a blue-and-white-themed backdrop. And after the sold-out event ends, Penn State-favorite Velveeta will perform.

The mixer runs from 6-9 p.m., with the chapter having worked with the restaurant to ensure it’s an exclusive event. “Hard Rock Café has been wonderful. It’s a private party, and we have the place to ourselves,” Kasperik said. The chapter sold out its full ticket allotment almost immediately after ticket sales began, and Kasperik, a 1992 Penn State alumna, said this has evolved way past an Alumni Association chapter event.

Former players, parents of current players, out-of-town visitors, and chapter members and alumni whom the chapter hasn’t seen in a while all are planning to attend. And when you throw in the Nittany Lion, Blue Band music, cheerleaders, and Lionettes, it’s “even more blown up,” Kasperik said.

In other words, Penn State’s ready to take over Pittsburgh.

“We’ll have 400 people there, and we probably could have had 4,000,” said Greg Scott, a 1992 Penn State alumnus who served as chapter president from 2001 to 2005.

“There is a lot of pent-up excitement. This Friday night, we’re going to see a lot of people we haven’t seen before. People see us and they want to get active with the chapter — we’re getting some of that from folks. So we’re going to engage them, and we’re hoping this really raises awareness for us and jump-starts people.”

Proceeds from on-site raffles will benefit the Chappie Hill Memorial Scholarship (through the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter) and the Smeal College of Business scholarships. There’s a football connection there, as Hill was one of the first African-American football players at Penn State. He graduated in 1956 and then enlisted in the Marines. He retired to Pittsburgh in the late 1980s and became heavily involved with the alumni chapter, helping to organize a golf fundraiser and pregame tailgate before the last meeting between Penn State and Pitt in 2000.

As Kasperik and Scott both hinted, the vibe in Pittsburgh is a bubble that’s ready to burst. Sixteen years will build that type of anticipation, and both experience it firsthand. Scott earned his master’s degree at Pitt and works at an engineering firm that tilts toward Penn State, but which also is in a city known for its engineers. Scott noted the University of Pittsburgh’s strong engineering program as one reason why.

“I’m wearing a Penn State tie right now, and I’m afraid for my life,” he said a few weeks ago, laughing, before he left for an evening meeting with a handful of Pitt engineers. “The winner will get to gloat for a year, but it’s good-natured. Everybody understands that the athletic rivalry doesn’t diminish the educational opportunities at each school.”

Penn State has played Pitt more than any other opponent, and the Nittany Lions lead the series 50-42-4. Pitt handed Penn State a 12-0 loss in 2000 at Three Rivers Stadium the last time they played, the Panthers’ first win in the series since 1988.

It’s been decades since both teams were simultaneously ranked high in the polls, and an entire generation grew up without seeing the Nittany Lions and Panthers play at all.

Do people still care like they used to? Is the level of emotional investment the same? Has Penn State-Pitt taken over an entire city the way it used to?

“There are flashes of it,” Scott said. “People remember when they played every year — and especially when they were competing for national championships — that was a war when they played at the end of the season.

“I think people are flashing back to that, and on both sides. Sixteen years of not playing has cooled that a little, but I think there’s a lot of excitement to renew the rivalry.”

Kasperik, meanwhile, summarized the weekend with the enthusiasm of a college student, saying, “It’s going to be awesome.”

Her journey to an Alumni Association chapter president was in some ways inevitable. Growing up, her father was best friends with one of Sue Paterno’s brothers. Kasperik’s parents would sometimes visit the Paterno house for dinner after games, and in those days, women wore skirts to Beaver Stadium. “That gives you a sense of how it was,” Kasperik said.

She’d listen to Penn State football games on the radio before they were regularly televised, and she knew she was going to Penn State by the time she was in fourth grade.

So in reality, Kasperik has been planning this weekend for a lot longer than three and a half years.

It’s been a lifetime in the making.

“It’s very gratifying, and it’s definitely a source of pride,” Kasperik said of serving as chapter president. “This event coming up Friday is my baby, and there are a lot of people involved. I think we’re going to put on a great event.”

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Last Updated September 12, 2016