Paterno, Penn St. pay tribute to Va. Tech victims

Updated: April 21, 2007, 3:55 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno was overwhelmed by all the orange and maroon at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The color scheme meant more to him on this picture-perfect, sunny afternoon than anything tinged Penn State blue-and-white.

Paterno and Penn State paid tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre at the annual Blue-White football game that concluded the Nittany Lions' spring practice.

"You get wrapped up so much in the little things, the details ... you get caught up," Paterno said. "Then all of a sudden you come to a day like today."

Jeremy Herbstritt, a civil engineering graduate student, was one of the 32 slain in the massacre Monday at Virginia Tech. Herbstritt had two undergraduate degrees from Penn State, most recently one in civil engineering from 2006.

Herbstritt grew up on a farm just outside of Bellefonte, about a 15-minute drive from Beaver Stadium, and his father works for the university's Office of Physical Plant.

Herbstritt's girlfriend and members of his family met with Paterno before the game, and presented him with Herbstritt's maroon Virginia Tech cap.

The gesture appeared to nearly move Paterno to tears. He walked into a pre-game news conference with the cap in hand. Herbstritt's parents attended the game and watched the tribute to their son and other victims.

The bulk of the news conference was about football, though Paterno ended the session by quoting a poem from a biography of Civil War Gen. Stonewall Jackson written by a Virginia Tech graduate, which he said reminded him of the tragedy's aftermath.

The poem described a hero who "came among us as we slept, at first he lowly knelt and rose and wept. And gathering up a thousand spears he swept across the field of Mars before forever, and knelt among the stars."

"I think about the kids going to college, throwing their spears to conquer their world, and all of a sudden they are shot down," Paterno said.

Students wore orange and maroon shirts -- Virginia Tech's colors -- in the stands to spell out "VT." A moment of silence was observed for the victims, and the Penn State band, also wearing orange, played "Amazing Grace."

The moment appeared to make Herbstritt's mother and others in the family cry.

Paterno said he was proud of the way the fans and students have reached out to Virginia Tech.

"They love the game," Paterno said about the crowd. "They love this place, and yet their love is deep enough that it carries across two states. ... It's a great day, and I'm proud to be part of it."


Associated Press photographer Carolyn Kaster contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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