Lost & Found
Copyright© 2007 by Douglas Fox
Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 34 - Kyle Martin goes to PSU seeking football glory. Read about his successes, failures and excesses as he tries to find his place in the world
Things started to get busy the week before Thon, two weeks before our spring break. I had a mid-term in sociology on Friday, geography on Monday and term papers due in both history courses before spring break. Kelly's schedule wasn't better. In addition to the history term papers, she had a Spanish midterm Wednesday and Poly Sci midterm on Thursday. We spent Sunday afternoon and evening studying.
I bumped into Jay for the first time since the weekend on Monday afternoon when I was leaving our dorm to go to the Lasch Building to study video. Jay left early on Friday morning to fly down to Alabama to have his surgeon check out his leg. Jay had a walking cast on and was using one crutch for support instead of two.
"Good news from the doctor?" I asked pleasantly.
"Hell, yeah!" Jay replied enthusiastically. "Dr. Andrews said my leg is healing nicely. I'm allowed to put a little weight on it. The best news is that I'm allowed to start working out again – only curls, bench press and things like that where I'm sitting or lying down."
"That's good news Jay," I responded.
"I've got to shed some of this," Jay added, patting his stomach. "I'm up eighteen pounds since the accident." Jay shook his head and added, "Any exercise will feel good."
"Any chance you'll have that thing off by spring practice?" I asked.
"No chance," Jay answered. "I have an appointment to go back to Birmingham on the 19th of March for my next check up. I won't need another cast if everything is good with my leg."
"I hope everything works out for you," I replied. "We're going to need you this fall."
"I'll be ready, Kyle," Jay said. "You can count on it."
"I am," I agreed.
I was driving myself crazy trying to keep up with my studies and to prepare everything to support Zack and Leigh Ann during the Thon. I needed to get snacks, drinks and ice for the dancers. I needed to check the support team schedule to make sure everyone knew when they were on duty. I needed to coordinate our participation with Thon organizing committee. I needed to distribute floor passes to all the members of the support team.
Zack brought sanity back to my life with a pointed reminder that a good leader delegates responsibilities and then monitors performance rather than trying to do everything himself. I put Tyler Madden in charge of the support team duties. Damian volunteered to take care of the snacks and beverages with Christian's help. Cuch agreed to coordinate the Make-A-Wish kid's tours of the Lasch Building. Duty by duty I passed out all the jobs so I could fill my proper role – overseer and motivator.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation was one of the benefactors for the funds raised by the Thon. Some of the kids with cancer that the foundation was helping wanted to visit with the football team. The kids had some specific requests for players they wanted to meet. Zack Hayes, not unexpectedly, was the most popular. Shawn O'Conner, Jake Washington, Karol Zizka, Evan Foster, Cuch and I were all asked to meet with the kids.
The last player asked to meet with the kids was a surprise. One of the boys wanted to meet Brendan Hayden. Brendan is a decent linebacker but not one our "name" players. I was curious why someone asked for him specifically.
Tuesday afternoon Trevor and I were hanging out outside the weight room while we waited for our roommates Damian and Tony King to finish their reps before dinner. We were talking about nothing in particular when Trevor asked, "You doing anything special this year for spring break?"
"Yeah, Kelly and I are going down to Panama City Beach again," I answered. "We had a good time last year. We're going to meet some of my friends from high school down there, stay near the beach, catch some sun and go out dancing in the evening."
"That sounds pretty cool," Trevor responded. "I'm not doing anything special, just vegging out at home I guess. Maybe I'll invite Stephanie to come down to Unionville for a visit. I spent part of a week at her house over winter break." Trevor paused and then adding wistfully, "I wish I had planned something special for Steph and me."
"Come down with us," I suggested. "I'm sure we have room for two more people."
"Really?" Trevor answered. "Would we be imposing if it's just your friends from high school?"
"It'll be fine," I replied. "Ed's college roommate Eric, Eric's girlfriend, a girl for Ed, another friend's boyfriend and Kelly didn't go to our high school. That's five out of our group of twelve that aren't from our school. You and Steph ought to come. You'd have fun."
"Yeah, we would," Trevor agreed. "Can you get another room for us this close to break? Don't the rooms sell out fast?"
"We're camping out near the beach," I explained. "That isn't a problem for you, is it?"
"Camping? No, I was a Boy Scout for five years. Camping is no problem," Trevor answered. "I don't know if Steph is in to camping though."
"I didn't know that about you," I said. "Were you in the same troop as Chip?"
"Sure, Unionville only has one troop," Trevor answered. "One very large troop – we had seventy kids in it when I was a member."
"That's a lot bigger than my troop," I said. "We only have thirty-five kids in ours and we're still the largest of the five troops in our school district."
"Cool!" Trevor replied. "I'll talk this over with Stephanie and see if she is interested in going. We'll both have to clear this with our parents too."
"I hope it all works out for the two of you to come," I said. "I promise you'll have fun."
Trevor and I continued talking for a few more minutes until our roommates finished their workouts. The four of us grabbed quick showers and headed back to the dorms for dinner.
I called Ed Fritz after dinner to make sure that there would be room for two extra people. Ed teased that he didn't want to spend a week with some defensive end. Trevor had sacked him quite enough back in high school. After a minute Ed admitted he had no problem with Trevor and his girlfriend coming along. We had enough space in the campsites for more than the fourteen people we currently had lined up for the week.
Trevor reported back to me Wednesday afternoon that Steph loved the idea of going to Florida for spring break too. Trevor hadn't known it, but Stephanie was an experienced camper. She was in Girl Scouts and her family camped frequently. The Conwells and the Kolmars both gave their blessing for their children to head south for spring break. I e-mailed all my friends the news about our additional company.
I got a phone call from Zack Hayes as I was finishing my workout Wednesday afternoon around four o'clock.
"Hey, Kyle," Zack said after I answered the call. 'What are you doing for dinner?"
"Nothing special," I answered. "Kelly and I are going over to Pollock around 5:30 with our friends from the dorm."
"No you're not," Zack replied. "You and Kelly are coming out for dinner with Leigh Ann and me. We're celebrating my signing with my new agent. He's taking us out to dinner."
"I won't get in trouble having dinner with an agent, will I?" I asked. The NCAA is extremely strict about those kinds of things.
"You won't as long as I treat you and Kelly and Max doesn't," Zack answered.
"Cool, I'll clear this with Kelly, but I'm sure she won't turn down a free meal," I replied.
Kelly was delighted at the chance to eat out. There were lots of nice places downtown and we knew Zack would choose a good restaurant.
Kelly and I showed up at Zack's door at 5:15. Leigh Ann answered our knock and invited us inside. She introduced into us to a short, older gentleman, Max Solomon. Mr. Solomon was maybe 5'-9"tall, had a slight paunch that went with late middle age. He looked to be in his mid to late fifties. His once dark ring of hair around his bald head was nearly white now.
"Mr. Kyle Martin, it is so good to finally meet you," Mr. Solomon said. "Zachary has said so many fine things about you." Mr. Solomon turned towards Kelly. "Who is this lovely young lady?"
"This is my girlfriend, Kelly O'Keefe," I explained.
"Miss O'Keefe, it is entirely my pleasure," Mr. Solomon said as he bowed and kissed Kelly's proffered hand instead of shaking it. "You are an extremely fortunate young man to have this lovely young lady as your sweetheart."
Mr. Solomon, Leigh Ann, Kelly and I talked for a minute while we waited for Zack to come downstairs. Mr. Solomon asked us to call him Max. He didn't wish to stand on formality. Kelly and I gave him permission to use our first names. Max was a courtly but very friendly man.
Zack offered to drive us downtown but Max said he preferred to walk. He took the train into New York City every morning from his home in Connecticut. He was used to walking or taking the subway nearly everywhere he went in New York City. Zack and I assured Max that our downtown wasn't far from here.
Zack suggested we go to Spats on College Avenue. Zack and I described the Cajun' style food they served as we walked downtown. Max said it sounded delightful.
Kelly and I concurred. Spats was probably our favorite fancy restaurant downtown. We had eaten there a couple weeks earlier for our Valentine's Day dinner. The restaurant was busier than I expected for a mid-week evening. The hostess found us a table after a few minutes wait in the narrow hall by the front door.
Max filled the time after we ordered with questions. He wanted to hear how Zack came to be one of the most sought after quarterbacks in college football. He was curious about how Zack and I ended up together in football.
Zack told him most of the story about how he and my high school had recruited me including my brother Will suggesting they check me out. The only part he didn't tell Max was that Zack felt he owed Will for getting him laid the first time a couple years earlier.
The dinner conversation wasn't strictly football. Max asked Leigh Ann questions about growing up too and her plans for the future. He also was curious about Kelly's background and experiences. I was pleased that Max was kind enough to include Kelly in the conversation.
Max's share of Zack's signing bonus and first contract stood to make Max a lot of money. It was only understandable that he would want to get to know and show interest in Zack. Leigh Ann, as Zack's future wife, certainly rated attention and stroking from any competent agent. I represented a potential client for him in a couple years. Max's interest in me was also understandable.
It was Max's interest in and kindness to Kelly that impressed me. For all Max knew when the evening started, Kelly was my date for the evening and wasn't anyone of importance. He had no way to know that Kelly and I planned a future together. Max was unfailing polite to and interested in every member of our dinner party.
I understood why both Zack and Aaron chose the man to represent their interests. Max definitely would be high on my list of potential agents when the time came. He probably would have been even without this dinner together. When both of my mentors took the time to interview potential agents and chose the same man, well I would take a look at him too when the time came for that.
Spats' food was up to their excellent usual standard. We lingered over our dinner, enjoying the food and the company. Zack insisted we all needed to have dessert before we left. We had an unusual and interesting dessert – white chocolate & raspberry "jambalaya." It was delicious.
As we were finishing our dessert Max said apologetically, "I suppose I should admit to having an ulterior motive to inviting you and your girlfriend to dinner this evening. I wanted to ask you to help me put Zachary on full display for the NFL scouts."
"What can I do?" I asked.
"I know next week there will be plenty of fast wide receivers for Zachary to throw to at the NFL Combine," Max explained. "Your university holds a pro scouting day later in March. Zachary has a rifle for an arm and I want that attribute to be given the full spotlight. I want to make sure he has the fastest, best wide receiver on the field with him so he can demonstrate his prowess."
"Could you help me out Saturday March 19th?" Zack asked. "Slip on your cleats, throw on a jersey and come out and catch some long balls with me."
"Sure, no problem," I answered immediately. "You didn't need to butter me up with dinner for that. You could have called that Friday night and said 'Come catch some balls with me tomorrow, ' and I would have been there. Anything for the guy who got me started in football."
"Thanks, Kyle, I really appreciate your help," Zack replied.
Zack paid the bill for my and Kelly's dinners. Max paid for Zack and Leigh Ann. The five of us headed back to campus together after dinner. I thanked Zack and Max for dinner when we got to Pollock Halls. Kelly and I went to our own rooms to study. I had to wrap up my term paper for History 130 – "Napoleon, Jomini & Civil War Tactics." Kelly had a Poly Sci midterm at 10:10 the next morning.
I was pleased on Friday morning after I finished my Sociology midterm. I believed I had done well on the test. Kelly was in a good mood too when we met back at our dorms for lunch. She thought she would get a good grade on her Spanish midterm. Both of us had our Civil War term papers ready to hand in that afternoon.
Cameron was frazzled. He had put things off and hadn't written his term paper until last night. He had been up until 3 am working on the thing. He was fortunate that Omega Chi didn't have him working overnight Friday night at the Thon. He would be able to get a good night's sleep.
Kelly and I were lucky too. Tyler Madden had scheduled everyone for one – two hour night support session and two – two hour day sessions. He had pulled names at random to fill in the for the forty-six hour marathon. Kelly and I were on duty from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Saturday, from 6:00 am to 8:00 am on Sunday and again from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Sunday afternoon.
Kelly and I were extremely lucky to have pulled one of the most desirable "night" sessions for Sunday morning of the Thon. Of course "night session" was a relative term – we were college students after all and anything before 8:00 am was too damn early!
I had to be at the Lasch Building from 9:00 am to noon on Saturday to conduct tours for the Make-A-Wish Foundation's cancer survivors. That was fine with Kelly. She could get some extra sleep Saturday morning and then finish her History 21 term paper while I was tied up at the Lasch Building.
Kelly headed back to her room to work on her paper. I went to the Lasch Building for my workout. Kelly and I met up at the Mix in Pollock Commons to grab sandwiches for dinner. We ate them on the way over to the Bryce Jordan Center for the Thon.
My Thon Committee pass got us inside the doors ahead of the crowd waiting outside. I checked in with the floor manager to see if he had any last minute information for my team. He didn't. Kelly and I found Zack and Leigh Ann waiting anxiously for the time to take the floor. Damian, Melanie, Christian and Bev had a cooler filled with water, fruit juices and iced tea for our dancers. Tyler and his girlfriend Kayla Allen had the first two support couples ready to go. Everything was set.
The football team was assigned to the blue spirit team. This worked out well since all of us could wear our blue football team game jerseys for the weekend. The dancers came out to the floor and stowed their personal gear away while committee members warmed up the crowd of arriving supporters.
The dancers took the floor and did stretching exercises to prepare themselves for the marathon. The arena continued to fill as the dancers prepared.
At five minutes before six the MC welcomed everyone to the Thon. He reminded everyone about the history of the dance marathon from its humble beginning in 1972 with 34 dance couples when the Panhellenic council raised $2,000. The Thon had raised $69 million since then to fight cancer. The biggest beneficiary of the Thon was the Four Diamond Fund. Four Diamonds supported families of children with cancer through their ordeal.
The DJ started the music promptly at six pm and the Thon was off. Kelly and I hung out with Damian and Melanie; Cuch and Gina; Tyler and Kayla; and Christian and Bev. Damian and Melanie had drawn the first two hour support shift. Bruce MacCauley arrived a few minutes before eight with Kirsten Knowles, a freshman I hadn't met before, to take over from Damian and Melanie. Our group hung out for the line dance which happened a little after eight o'clock.
I walked Kelly back to her room after the line dance. Both of us had to finish our history term papers for History 21 next week and didn't expect to get much free time the rest of the weekend. I gave my lover a passionate good night kiss before we parted.
I dragged my tired butt out of bed around 8:15 on Saturday morning. I grabbed a quick shower, dressed and headed for Pollock Commons. I charged a breakfast sandwich on my eLion card at the Mix and ate as I rushed over to the Lasch Building. Eight of us were giving tours and spending the morning with kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I met Mr. Kemp, from our athletic department, in the lobby of the Lasch Building. He was coordinating the tours for the twenty-four families. Chip, Evan, Jake and Shawn O'Conner were already there when I arrived at a quarter to nine. Brendan Hayden came in a minute behind me, followed by Cuch Cuchiella.
Mr. Kemp waited a couple minutes for our last tour guide. He started the briefing at ten of nine without Karol Zizka. Karol hurried in a couple minutes later, apologizing profusely for his tardiness – nothing out of the ordinary for Karol. The briefing finished a couple minutes before one of the university buses delivered the Make-A-Wish families to our lobby.
Mr. Kemp welcomed the families to our facilities, introduced us, and then teamed us up with our families. I was to guide William Buchanan, Kyle Morgan, Tyler Lyons and their families around the building.
"Hey, my name is Kyle too," Kyle Morgan chirped brightly. "Did you know our names are the same?"
I looked over at the nine year old boy with the big smile. Kyle looked small for his age and the cancer that had ravaged his body left its mark. His blond hair was thin but growing back. The boy's complexion was pale.
I mustered my biggest smile and answered, "Yes we do, Kyle."
I introduced myself to Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. Kyle's parents were in their early thirties. Both wore Penn State sweat shirts under their coats. They told me they were college sweethearts who married after graduation. Mr. Morgan graduated in the Class of 2000, Mrs. Morgan in 2001. The family lived just outside of Harrisburg.
I greeted the Buchanans next. I asked if it was all right to call William, Bill.
"I go by Will," the eleven year insisted.
"Will?" I replied. "I have a brother that uses that name too. It's good to meet you, Will." The boy stood just shy of five feet tall, probably weighing around 85-90 pounds. He looked to be the picture of health. I never would have guessed he had cancer if it wasn't for the Make-A-Wish T-shirt he was wearing.
I welcomed Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan to the Lasch Building. I learned from them that the family lived in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, in Berks County, north of Reading. Will's parents were in their mid to late thirties.
Tyler Lyons shook my hand warmly when I greeted him. The fourteen years old was 5'-8" tall, big framed but a little thin. He was wearing an old, beat up blue and white #52 football jersey with the name "Trojans" across the front.
"Do you play football?" I asked.
"I do ... well, I did ... before..." Tyler responded, letting his answer hang for a couple seconds. "You know ... before I got sick. This is my older brother's jersey," he explained as he saw my curiosity about his shirt. "The doctors said I won't be strong enough to play this fall, but I hope I can play on the JV team next year. I LOVE football."
"You're in the right place if you love football," I replied. "What school do the Trojans play for?"
"Chambersburg," Tyler answered.
"That's cool," I answered. I didn't let on that I knew a little about his school. They played in District 3, the same as my high school. I had never heard of them in the playoffs in six years I had followed high school football. Apparently Chambersburg didn't have a strong team.
I led my guests and their families back the hallway to the locker room first. As we passed the wall of honor leaving the lobby Kyle commented, "Wow, look all these names!" He stopped and stared at the wall. "Are all these guys on the football team?"
"They were," I explained. "All the men on the wall were captains of our team over the years."
Kyle stared up at the wall for a few seconds until he spotted a name he recognized. "Zachary Hayes," he said as he stretched to touch the letters. "I know who he is. He's the best quarterback around."
"Yes, he is excellent," I agreed.
"Will he be here today?" Kyle asked. "Can I meet him?"
"Zack is over at the Jordan Center now dancing to help raise money," I answered. "I could introduce him to all of you after lunch if you are going back to the Jordan Center. We can catch him during one of his breaks."
"Cool!" Will agreed.
"We're going back to watch the marathon after lunch," Tyler added.
"Hey, Kyle, your name isn't on the wall," little Kyle interjected.
"I'm not a team captain," I explained as we continued walking. "Team captains usually have played on the team for four or five years. I've only been a Lion for two years."
Kyle accepted my explanation. We continued into the locker room. I showed the boys and their families around. They wanted to see Zack's, Jake's, Trevor's, Shawn O'Conner's and Karol's lockers. I showed them mine too. All three boys got to try on my helmet, shoulder pads and game jersey.
Little Kyle looked comical in my equipment. My jersey hung down below his knees. He had to push the helmet way back to see. My pads doubled his body's width. I posed for pictures with all the kids while they were dressed in my equipment.
We headed on to the video room where I showed them a playbook and how we studied video to prepare for games. We toured the meeting room the wide receivers use where I diagrammed a few plays on the white board. They played around with X's and O's too, developing some very esoteric plays that were best left on whiteboard and not on the field. They had fun, which was the point of their visit.
I took them to the training room and showed them the whirlpool and the other facilities we had for healing aches, pains and injuries. We ran into Jay Nicholson there working with Jason Pennington to rehab his injuries from the accident. He was just finishing up when we came in.
"Everyone, I want to introduce you to Jason Nicholson," I announced as Jay limped over to us. "Jay is going to be the next star on our team. He'll be taking over at quarterback now that Zack Hayes is done."
Tyler, Will and little Kyle flocked around my friend, who gave me a goofy grin and then tried to answer the questions the kids fired at him. Chris Morgan, Kyle's dad, tapped me on the shoulder.
"A little inside information?" Chris asked quietly. "I follow Penn State football pretty closely. I hadn't read anywhere that Coach Burton had chosen Hayes' replacement yet. I understood that he wanted to have a competition next summer for the job."
"Call it a prediction," I answered. "Coach Burton is going to let Glenn Korbel, Chip Brinton and Jay compete for the starting spot. I'm telling you who I think will win in the end."
"I read that Winfield Brinton was a real hot shot recruit," Chris responded. "Don't you think he'll be any good?"
"Chip prefers not to use the 'Winfield' name," I explained. "He isn't pretentious. Both Chip and Jay are smart, athletic and have strong arms. I expect Jay to beat Chip because he has an extra year and a half of experience in our program. That is going to be the margin of difference between the two of them."
"Thanks for the insight, Kyle," Chris replied. "I guess we should get our autographs now before the rush."
All three families got Jay's autograph before they left the training room. Jay felt pretty good about that. They were the first people to ask for his autograph, not counting a few young kids back home right after his high school team won the Virginia state championship when he was a senior in high school.
The group thanked Jay for his time before he limped off for the player's lounge. I took my group to the weight room and let them play a little bit with the weights and the machines. Will's dad insisted that he try only the bench press. His leg with the surgical graft couldn't take extra weight.
I took the group to the study center and showed them the facilities. I took them to the player's lounge too so they could see how we spent our free time. The final stop was Coach Burton's office. Each family had pictures taken of themselves with me in Coach's office.
We headed over together to Pollock Commons for lunch. The Thon was covering meals for the families at our dining hall while they visited over the weekend. I gave Kelly a call as we left the Lasch Building so she could meet us.
I introduced Kelly to my guests and their families when we met inside the dining hall. All three boys, but particularly Ty, were captivated by my girlfriend. They followed her upstairs to the dining hall.
Kyle tugged at my shirt as we waited in line. "You know your girlfriend is really pretty?" he asked.
"She certainly is," I agreed. I caught Kelly blushing a little and trying to suppress a smile. My little namesake had good taste in women.
The three boys grabbed the seats immediately around Kelly at our table. I ended up sliding down the table and sitting with the parents for lunch. I talked with the parents while the boys pestered Kelly.
I learned more about the three boys' illnesses from their parents. Kyle was diagnosed with leukemia about fifteen months ago. Kyle completed chemo three months ago. The doctors were monitoring him closely to make sure he stayed in remission.
Will's mom found a growth on his left leg two years ago. The tumor growing on his thigh bone turned out to be Ewing's Sarcoma. He had to undergo radiation, chemo and surgery to graft replacement bone onto his thigh so he would be able to walk again. The cancer was localized and Will's prognosis was good to remain cancer free.
Ty was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma twenty-seven months ago. He went through eight months of a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. They caught his disease early. The doctors said that 98% of people with his type of cancer survived. Ty's parents said given some time, Ty would get his strength back so he could get back into the sports he loved – football, wrestling and baseball.
The enormity of what the three kids had faced sobered me. The challenges and problems (mostly self-inflicted) I had faced in my life were nothing compared what they had faced. I remarked, "It's good the guys are finished with their treatment. I guess this weekend would have been much harder for them if they were still doing chemo."
"My son wouldn't be able to come here if he was doing his treatment," Mr. Morgan explained. "The treatment suppressed his immune system. This is Kyle's first outing since he finished chemo. Even a simple cold could have been life threatening then."
"Will's whole life while he underwent treatment was home and the hospital," Mrs. Buchanan added. "The risk of infection was too high to take him into a crowd of thousands the way we are able to do now."
Mr. Buchanan chuckled and added, "I was sent home to live with my mother for a week when I came down with the flu. Thankfully Will didn't catch it before I moved out."
The Morgans and the Lyons confirmed what the Buchanans explained to me. "I knew chemo was hard, but I had no idea that it was that difficult," I said. "How do you manage to get through all that?"
"What other choice is there?" Mrs. Lyons answered. "You do what you have to do for your son."
"All the help provided us through the Four Diamonds Fund has been great," Mr. Lyons added. "I don't know how we would have handled things without their support." Mr. Lyons stared me square in the eye. "What you and your teammates are doing today – spending time with Ty, giving him this tour – this means so much to him. He has been looking forward to this for weeks, since we found out that Make-A-Wish was able to arrange for us to visit with you."
The Buchanans and Morgans agreed how much their sons looked forward to meeting team members and touring our facilities. They thanked me effusively for spending the morning with their sons.
"I truly was my pleasure," I answered. "I enjoyed showing your sons around today. It gave me a better appreciation of where the money we raised goes too."
"We?" Mr. Morgan asked. "Are team members involved in more than giving tours?"
"Oh yes," I replied. "The football team is one of the many organizations raising money for Thon."
"How did you guys find time to raise money while you play football?" Mr. Buchanan asked.
I explained how organized ourselves to raise money after the football season ended. I didn't brag about how well we did. I praised the football team alumni and their generosity.
It was close to 1:00 PM, so Kelly and I took our leave of the boys and their families. We planned to spend about half the afternoon at the Thon and use the rest of the time to proofread and help correct each other's history term papers. I reminded the families to stop by and visit us at the Bryce Jordan Center. I promised the boys that I would introduce them to Zack Hayes.
The Buchanans and the Morgans headed off to the Creamery for ice cream. The Lyons family headed west so Mr. Lyons could show Ty the dorm he stayed in when he was a student at Penn State. Kelly and I headed back to the Jordan Center.
Jibril Sloan and his girlfriend Imani were half way through their shift when we got there. Zack and Leigh Ann were in good spirits, still going strong. Kelly and I joined them down along the edge of the dance floor. Brendan Hayden and his Thon partner Allison Montgomery joined us about fifteen minutes later.
The football team was issued six floor passes for the weekend. I reserved two for the on-duty couple, two more for the couple finishing their shift or due to come on soon. The final two passes Tyler, Kayla, Kelly and I shared as we supervised our operations for the weekend.
Brendan and I got a chance to talk. He really enjoyed taking the kids on a tour around the Lasch Building in the morning. I also found out why Brendan was asked to be a guide. One of the three boys he took around, the eight year old, was from Brendan's hometown, Mechanicsburg. The boy's parents knew Brendan and his parents from church. The little boy had been diagnosed with leukemia eighteen months ago. This weekend was the first opportunity he had to get out since he finished treatment.
The Morgans caught up to me just as Jibril and Imani left and Brendan and Allison took over the 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm support/morale booster shift. Little Kyle hung out with Kelly and me for about ten minutes, until Zack and Leigh Ann took their next break.
Zack graciously agreed to autograph Kyle's shirt and have his picture taken with my little buddy and his parents. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were still talking with Zack when little Kyle insisted he needed a drink. I offered to take him over to a concession stand to buy water.
Little Kyle spotted the Nittany Lion on the way back to his parents. "Do you think we could meet him, Kyle?" he asked politely.
"Sure, I know him," I replied. I took Kyle over to the side of the stage where the Lion was waiting. We walked over to the Lion. "Mr. Lion, I'd like to introduce you to Kyle Morgan," I said. "Kyle and his family are one of the Four Diamond families."
The Nittany Lion cocked his head and pretended to carefully appraise the appearance of his little fan. He took little Kyle's right arm and felt his bicep muscle. When he finished gauging the boy, the Lion stared to the ceiling and pretended to catch a long pass, which he cradled into his body. He pointed at Kyle and pretended to cradle another pass.
"He thinks you're the next star wide receiver for our team," I suggested. The Lion gave exaggerated head nods to confirm my comment.
"Wow! I'm too short to play football here," Kyle protested. The Lion pretended to examine little Kyle again. He put a hand on his head and transferred the measurement to a spot midway between his chest and waist. The Lion shrugged, went down on one knee and shook Kyle's hand. It began as a handshake but the Lion pulled Kyle into a hug.
"I see you on TV all the time," Kyle said when the Lion released him from the embrace. "It's great to meet you. I gotta get my mom and dad to get a picture of you. Is that OK?"
The Lion nodded his head up and down in agreement immediately. Kyle raced back to his parents before I could follow. They must have seen their son with the Lion and were heading our way.
"Thanks for giving Kyle a nice welcome," I said while we waited for Kyle and his parents to cross the floor. "I appreciate it, Gary."
"I'm not Gary," a voice inside the suit corrected. "I'm Patrick."
I didn't have a chance to follow up that comment as the Morgans arrived. I introduced Kyle's parents to the Lion. He shook hands with the Morgans, posed with Kyle for pictures and then posed with the whole family while I took their pictures. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan thanked the Lion repeatedly before they left. I stayed to talk with Patrick, to learn more about the mystery man in the suit.
"I didn't realize the university had substitutes to man the suit," I commented after the Morgans left.
"Gary Stapleton is graduating in a few months," Patrick explained. "I've been his understudy this year. I take over from him next fall."
"Welcome aboard, Patrick," I replied.
"I watched the way you and Gary interacted this fall," Patrick said. "I hope you don't mind doing that with me next season."
"Absolutely," I agreed. "I think the crowd enjoys us goofing around."
Patrick and I talked for a few minutes, getting to know each other. Patrick was Patrick Clark from Frazier, Pennsylvania, on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. He was a freshman majoring in weather. He planned to become a TV weatherman after graduation. He was a gymnast and drum major at his high school, Conestoga High School.
I hadn't known before, but the job of being the Nittany Lion came with a full scholarship at the university. Patrick had appeared at a couple basketball games before, but the Thon was his first extended appearance in public as the Lion. He and Gary were taking turns so the Lion could be on display most of the weekend without either of them staying awake through the entire marathon.
I rejoined Kelly, Brendan and Allison back at our station. We enjoyed the music, did the line dance when it was time and hung out. A Thon committee member found me there a few minutes before three o'clock. The committee wanted me on stage during Coach Paterno and Coach Burton's pep rally.
Coach Burton started off praising the committee, the volunteers helping run things, all the students who raised money and the Four Diamonds families for their participation. Coach led the crowd in a "We are ... Penn State" chant and then introduced his predecessor as head coach.
Coach Paterno received thunderous cheers from the crowd as he took the stage. Coach Paterno, ever the English Lit major and philosopher, gave a different perspective on our efforts for the Four Diamonds family.
I waited nervously on the wings while Coach Paterno spoke. I was used to performing in front of a 100,000 people but not speaking to a huge crowd. The largest group I ever spoke to was 400-500 people on a Friday night back at scout camp. The Bryce Jordan Center held 20,000 people. One of the committee members reassured me that I didn't need to speak when they called me on the stage – just smile and wave. That helped me relax a little.
Coach Paterno knows how to work a crowd. He had the Jordan Center rocking with cheers and the "We are!" "Penn State" cheer when he finished. The emcee waved for me to join him on the stage as Coach Paterno left. He gave the crowd a few moments to quiet down before he talked.
"All of you have enjoyed following our nationally ranked football team this past season. Members of the team spend countless hours working out, studying film, preparing for, practicing and playing football. The football team members carry a full academic load on top of all the hours they put in every week to represent our university.
"I doubt most of you realize the other things the team does for our university. Team members gave some of our Four Diamonds families tours of the football center this morning. That is fantastic!" The crowd gave a cheer of approval.
"The team has done more for Thon than that. Last year they assisted Omega Chi Epsilon and Tau Nu in raising money for Thon. Records show they raised $21,000 last year without being an official participant in the Thon.
"The team decided to get involved officially this year. They registered as a Thon organization and started raising funds for us. Team captain and All-American quarterback Zack Hayes is representing the team on the dance floor this year with his fiancée Leigh Ann Bowman."
The lighting crew ran a spotlight around the dance floor until they located Zack and Leigh Ann. The crowd cheered and applauded our team's most popular player. Zack and Leigh Ann smiled and waved to acknowledge the crowd's cheers.
The emcee continued, "The team's outstanding wide receiver, Kyle Martin, agreed to chair the team's Thon fundraising this season." The crowd cheered for me. I waved and tried not to blush at the ovation.
"The Nittany Lion Football Team did an outstanding effort raising money for our cause. Kyle and the team's $137,020 not only shattered the old record for a first year organization but also put the team in fourth place on the list among all organizations involved this year." This drew cheers from the crowd. The emcee shook my hand and added, "On behalf of the Thon committee and the Four Diamonds Fund, I want to thank you for your and the team's efforts this season."
I waved to acknowledge the cheers and applause from the crowd as I walked off stage. Coach Burton was still in the wings off stage. He motioned me to come over.