Clues In His Past?

Posted: November 20, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - When Jerry Sandusky moved his aging parents here in 1987 from Washington, Pa., he found them a three-bedroom rancher on Bristol Avenue in adjoining Ferguson Township.

Its setting was similar - eerily so, in retrospect - to that of the Lemont home the longtime Pennsylvania State University assistant coach had bought just three years earlier for himself and his growing family.

Like his house, his parents' also backed onto a park with a playground. And there were always children on Bristol, at first passing in and out of the busy Assembly of God church at the corner and later attending the elementary school that now occupies that site.

A dutiful only son, he visited Art and Evy Sandusky often. When that Assembly of God church started a football league for boys 9 to 14, Sandusky, though he was a Methodist and lived four miles away, served as a guest instructor.

In normal circumstances, of course, all that activity might be chalked up to innocent coincidence. But not now. Now, all the innocence has been stripped from Jerry Sandusky's past.

Two weeks after a grand jury investigation pushed back the veil on what authorities allege was Sandusky's secret life as a predatory pedophile, dark, disturbing shadows have replaced what once seemed a sunny and exemplary existence.

Revelations that he may have sexually abused boys - eight are mentioned in the 23-page grand jury presentment, although various news reports suggest more victims have come forward - have recast a story people here thought they knew.

Consequently, Sandusky's life is being reexamined through the prism of a tragedy that has shaken and reshaped Penn State. Little, the shocking daily disclosures suggest, was as it seemed.

Now, people in this insular college town - people everywhere, really - wonder how a man who once was the "monster" in the Nittany Lions' defense could allegedly have become one himself.

How could this well-respected, churchgoing man, this involved father, this coach - so successful that in January, the American Football Coaches Association presented him with its outstanding achievement award - allegedly have fooled so many for so long?

"We all thought we knew Jerry," said a man who worked closely with him for decades at Penn State and who, like so many, spoke only on condition of anonymity. "We thought he was a good person. Now, we're all disgusted by what's happened. There are a ton of questions out there. They all need to be answered."

Those questions cloud even the most ordinary facts in Sandusky's resumé:

Are there secrets in a childhood spent in a Western Pennsylvania recreation center that literally was his home?

Was it ambition or something else that limited his assistant-coaching tenures at Juniata College and Boston University to one year each?

Did altruism or pathology involve him so intensely with foster-care children and neighborhood kids?

Was there any abuse at the many football camps he operated for boys at places like Delaware Valley College?

How long has this alleged behavior been going on? Why wasn't it recognized sooner?

And what on earth was Penn State thinking when, aware of some of what the world knows now, it made Sandusky grand marshal of its 2000 homecoming parade, allowed him on campus with children for a 2004 carnival, let him speak at a 2007 commencement ceremony?

The crimes are so heinous that even the Bible verse hanging outside the two-story garage of Sandusky's 2,776-square-foot house on Grandview Road now seems informed with twisted meaning, one that in this tragic context might indeed reference the manipulative horror of child sexual abuse:

"Be still and know that I am God."

Looking back now on Sandusky's life, it seems impossible that red flags weren't raised long before the alleged 1994 incident that is the grand jury report's earliest case.

Everybody here knew he associated with boys - playing kickball with them in his backyard, working with them at the Second Mile, taking them to Penn State games. But the bold dots went unconnected for too long.

Few apparently thought it odd when, in December 1999, on the day the 55-year-old defensive coordinator coached his final game, an Associated Press feature remarked, "Always there are children. . . . He rolls around in the yard with them . . . takes them to the locker room."

And according to at least one person long connected with the football program, Sandusky invariably brought those boys "back to his house for a postgame dinner, then drove them home. We just all assumed it was part of the charity stuff. And maybe it was."

Maybe, too, it was genuine concern for children and not some evil intent that led Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, to become so involved with foster children, to adopt six, and - using the advance for a how-to book he wrote on linebacking - to found the Second Mile.

The Sanduskys, who, according to the coach's 2001 biography, the unfortunately named Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story, were unable to conceive naturally adopted five boys - Jon, Matt, E.J., Ray, and Jeff - and one girl, Kara.

In an interview before scandal ensnared their father, E.J., now an assistant football coach at West Chester University, who along with his siblings declined to be interviewed for this article, noted that his high-energy parent had been a magnet for neighborhood kids.

"He'd get every single kid involved" in kickball games, E.J. said.

Photos that surfaced this week show Sandusky over several decades engaging in various physical backyard games with his children and their friends.

That desire to associate with children came naturally to him.

His father, who died in 1996, helped wayward boys in his hometown of Washington.

Washington is a place where the residents are as sturdy as the products once manufactured in its now-shuttered mills. Art Sandusky worked in a glass factory before becoming a trolley-car conductor for the Pittsburgh Railway Co. His wife, who died in 2007, kept house and helped at the center.

The father loved sports, and the kids he coached liked and respected him. When a wealthy judge donated his home and property for a recreation center, Art Sandusky was the perfect man to run it, taking the job in 1950 when his only child was 6.

Though he never made much money at the Brownson House, he, his wife, and son Jerry at least got a place to live rent-free, a tiny third-floor apartment in the old brick building.

If there was a troubled boy in Washington, those who knew the family insisted, he knew he could go to Art Sandusky for help. A sign above the director's desk read, "Don't give up on a bad boy, because he might turn out to be a good man."

According to Byron Smialek, a columnist for the Washington Observer-Reporter, the elder Sandusky "helped thousands of kids."

The Brownson House was home to a kindergarten, but for the most part, it was a place where boxers, basketball players, wrestlers, and gymnasts worked out and competed. Outside, there were basketball courts, a baseball diamond, and a football field, which now bears Art Sandusky's name.

Born in 1944, Gerald Sandusky was a fixture at the center, helping, observing, and later participating in the games and activities there.

He was popular and no goody-two-shoes, twice being taken to the local police station for his role in excessive water-balloon attacks.

"Jerry was a great kid, and even then, he was a compassionate kid," said one longtime Washington resident who feared that if he spoke on the record, he'd be punished like Franco Harris. The former Steelers star lost his job last week as a spokesman for a Pittsburgh-area casino after he vigorously defended the fired Joe Paterno.

As Sandusky grew, he became proficient in sports. Bigger than most of his pals, he was a football lineman, a basketball guard, and a baseball catcher. By the time he attended Washington High, he was the best athlete in town, collecting eight letters and getting nominated for the Big 33 Game, which pitted elite football stars from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Though he later admitted to being "shy and backward around girls," he met Dottie in high school, and they married after his 1965 graduation from Penn State.

Rip Engle recruited him for Penn State, and Sandusky, away from home for the first time, had no trouble adjusting to the middle-of-the-state campus. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he played defensive end. An aggressive defender - he appears in a photo in Penn State's 1965 yearbook tearing into a West Virginia ballcarrier - he was also extremely dedicated.

Because he'd grown up engulfed by physical-education activities, Sandusky's major was an easy choice. An earnest student, he graduated with better grades than any other male senior phys-ed student.

In 1966, first-year head coach Joe Paterno, who told an interviewer then that Sandusky was "one of our finest young men on campus," kept him on as graduate-assistant while the younger man pursued a master's degree.

Freshmen were ineligible for the varsity then, and the ex-player served as freshman-team assistant to Paterno assistant Earle Bruce.

A year later, Sandusky went to Juniata College, about 30 miles away in Huntingdon, to be a phys-ed instructor and an assistant in football, basketball, and track.

Asked by a reporter at the time about his interests, the newly arrived Sandusky listed "youth" and "service."

(Indicative of just how intense the recent scrutiny of Sandusky has been, someone went to out-of-the-way Juniata, found the 1967 yearbook in the library, and tore out the page containing that team's photo.)

No records at Juniata or in Huntingdon reveal any trouble involving Sandusky during his year there. In 1968, undoubtedly enticed by a bigger school and city, he left to be an assistant at Boston University.

A sports-information official at BU, which has since dropped football, said he could not provide contact information for any of the players on that '68 team, which went 5-3-1.

After that season, Paterno came calling again. He hired Sandusky to be the defensive-line coach. Aided by several defensive all-Americans, including tackle Mike Reid, Penn State went undefeated that season.

Neat, fit, smart, Sandusky meshed perfectly with Paterno's image of a Nittany Lions assistant. Players described his coaching style as well-prepared, aggressive, focused, and loud ("He was a screamer," said one), three traits that guaranteed he was going to clash with the similarly equipped head coach.

"Joe and Jerry were both really sure of themselves, and they had their battles," said the source close to the program. "Jerry probably quit or got fired a couple of times after disagreements. But so did everybody else on Joe's staff. That's the way things worked."

That same person noted how surprising it was to hear Sandusky hesitate in responding when, during a nationally televised interview with NBC last week, he was asked whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys.

"One thing about Jerry," the person said, "you always got an answer. And you got it quick. That [pause] was strange."

Mike Guman, the Bethlehem product who began his Penn State career as a defensive back, said that although the scandal sickened him, he always found Sandusky to be "the nicest, most energetic, caring, enthusiastic person you'd ever meet."

"But if he's found guilty," Guman said, "I hope he's prosecuted severely."

In 1977, Paterno named Sandusky his defensive coordinator. By then, the Sanduskys had years of experience with foster children, and that same year Sandusky started the Second Mile.

Initially, the charity offered a group home for troubled boys. Using his position in the community, Sandusky quickly expanded the scope through vigorous fund-raising and the support of the prominent Pennsylvanians whom the popularity of Nittany Lions football allowed him to access.

In the off-season, Sandusky traveled frequently for the organization. When he was home, he'd spend long days at the agency's North Atherton Street offices.

At 5:30 p.m., he'd leave to run or lift weights. Before he left for dinner, Sandusky said in 1999, there was time to check on the boys in the Second Mile.

Eventually, he began taking boys from there on tours of Holuba Hall, the Lasch Center, and the other campus sites dedicated to football. The grand jury report even indicated that he took boys to stay overnight at the Toftrees Resort when the Nittany Lions stayed there on the nights before home games.

Whether and when Paterno or anyone else objected remains to be determined, but, according to the report, it wasn't until 1998 that the mother of an 11-year-old boy reported to Penn State police and Department of Public Welfare authorities that Sandusky had showered with her son.

Though the campus investigation that protest initiated went nowhere, there has been considerable speculation that it precipitated the premature retirement of Sandusky, who was widely seen as Paterno's heir apparent.

Having been the top defensive coach on Penn State teams that won national titles in 1982 and 1986 and consistently turned out all-American linebackers, Sandusky had built a national reputation.

In 1991, he turned down an offer to become Maryland's head coach and later was contacted by Marshall and Temple. It was widely assumed that he rejected the bids because he saw himself as Paterno's successor.

So his retirement, at the relatively young age of 55, prompted immediate skepticism.

"Nobody believes that this retirement gig is for good," noted an AP writer. The Daily Collegian, meanwhile, pointed out that the August announcement "shocked Penn State fans, coaches, and players alike."

There's every reason to believe that following his retirement, Sandusky was under increasing stress. If the grand jury report provides an accurate chronological framework, it appears that his alleged aberrant behavior intensified at that point.

The football source noted that when he ran into Sandusky during that period, the ex-coach told him he'd "hardly slept for five weeks." And his public comments, especially in light of what was to come, grew stranger.

Contacted by the student-run Collegian for comment after his announcement, Sandusky twice said, "I love young people."

But if Penn State had any lingering suspicions about the coach, they weren't apparent in the official reaction. Sandusky not only attended the postseason banquet, but also delivered a speech that was so moving Paterno praised it publicly.

A week later, the massive Bryce Jordan Center was commandeered for a memorable retirement party. The arena's floor was removed, and tables were set up for 1,000 people.

"Most of the athletic department staff went," recalled Jim Meister, the longtime head of State College's Quarterback Club. "It was also attended by many of the townspeople. Joe was there."

But several who attended said Paterno's comments were surprisingly brief for so important an aide, leading many to speculate that the coach might have known then about Sandusky's behavior and been disgusted with it. The grand jury report indicates that the coach didn't learn of it for an additional two years.

The feeling that something was amiss heated up Feb. 1, 2000, when, as happened two days after the grand jury report was issued earlier this month, a news conference was canceled at the last minute. That one had been scheduled to name Sandusky's successor.

The only explanation came from Jeff Nelson, the assistant athletic director of communications, who said: "[Joe] just said he needed to cancel it."

According to pension records for state employees, Sandusky retired with a pension of $59,000 annually and a lump-sum payment of $148,000. He also kept access to football tickets and campus facilities.

He began to take boys to Eagles games in Philadelphia and to have sleepovers in his basement. On football Saturdays, Sandusky began accompanying Second Mile boys to games at Beaver Stadium.

Afterward, he occasionally took them to the Lasch Center to exercise. Then he'd take them to his house for dinner and, at some point, drive them home.

By then, the record is clear, Penn State was aware of the earliest allegations against Sandusky. And yet, on Oct. 2, 2000, he rode in the homecoming parade as its grand marshal. Smiling, seated alongside his wife in a white convertible, he tossed candy to youngsters in the College Avenue crowd.

That same year, a Lasch Center janitor had informed his supervisor that he had seen Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy. Two years later, in the report's most-discussed encounter, assistant coach Mike McQueary went to Paterno after he said he saw Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the shower.

At that point, athletic director Tim Curley instructed Sandusky that he could no longer bring children on campus. And yet, in 2004, for a ceremony in which Second Mile youngsters were paired up with student mentors, Sandusky was present.

Finally, in 2007, despite all the swirling allegations, Sandusky was asked to deliver a brief speech at the May commencement ceremony.

Contacted for comment on these incidents, a Penn State spokesman said the ongoing investigation prevented any university comment.

In 2002, Sandusky began volunteering as a football coach at Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, 30 miles northeast of State College in Clinton County. The grand jury alleged that Central Mountain students were the victims of Sandusky assaults.

The retired coach also continued to operate football camps for boys, many of them overnight sessions, at Penn State and elsewhere.

For four summers (1999-2002) Sandusky held one at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown.

"It was well-run, and there never were any complaints that we knew of," college spokesman Lanny Morgnanesi said. "But eventually, interest fell off. The attendance declined each year, and eventually he stopped doing it."

Sandusky had a lengthy but little-known involvement in the youth league started by the church across the street from his parents, the State College Assembly of God Boys Developmental Football Program.

"He was what we'd call a guest," said the church's interim pastor, the Rev. Bob Rhoden. "He was never a volunteer. Four nights each summer, he'd come to speak to the kids. He'd bring along two or three Penn State players. And it was all in a public setting. He came every year from 1998 to 2008."

Rhoden, who wasn't there at the time, didn't know that Sandusky's parents had lived across the street. He also wasn't sure how Sandusky had become acquainted with the church and its football program.

The association with the boys league appeared to fulfill a comment Sandusky had made to reporters after his retirement, another example of something that seemed funny then, but that 12 years later now appears disturbing.

"I might," he said, "coach midget leagues."

Those Assembly of God sessions, as described on the church's website, also had a religious component, though it's not known whether the coach offered any spiritual guidance to the boys.

Sandusky has been a long-standing member at St. Paul's United Methodist Church. Its November newsletter, in fact, indicates that his son Matt will soon be inducted as a new member.

Asked about Sandusky's role there, the pastor, the Rev. Ed Zeiders, said via e-mail:

"I am not able to participate in the conversation. We have developed an action plan for caring for all the persons involved, and that plan is under way."

The Sandusky scandal has so thoroughly disillusioned and disheartened this town that one of the football program's strongest and most enduring symbols has slumped into inaction.

The State College Quarterback Club, a social organization dedicated to Nittany Lions football, has for decades drawn huge crowds to its weekly luncheons. Paterno addressed them often, and Sandusky was a regular, too.

Now, the venerable club has canceled its next two meetings.

"There's real gloom hanging over this town," Meister said. "All we can do is wait until this mess gets cleared up."

Penn State Developments

Two Penn State alumni say they have raised nearly $500,000

to help sexual-abuse victims by aiming to collect a dollar from fellow alums. Jerry and Jamie Needel raised the money through Twitter and Facebook accounts. They have given the money to

the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported Saturday.

Jay Paterno told ESPN on Saturday that his parents were saddened by the scandal's effect on children. Paterno said his father insisted, however, that the team's coaching staff had not been aware of any of the allegations against former assistant

coach Jerry Sandusky.

Speaking about his father's cancer diagnosis, Jay Paterno told ESPN: "If there's one guy I know that can beat it, it's him."

Interim athletic director Dave Joyner, speaking before Penn State's game at Ohio State on Saturday, said the feeling around the athletic department was one of "mourning."

More coverage, including videos and the grand jury presentment, at

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick

at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@philly, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz,"



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