Penn State family angered by sanctions

Frank Ahrenhold (left) and his son Tyler both played for Joe Paterno. The Ahrenholds are from Blue Bell.
Frank Ahrenhold (left) and his son Tyler both played for Joe Paterno. The Ahrenholds are from Blue Bell.
Posted: July 25, 2012

Frank Ahrenhold, who played for Joe Paterno from 1968 to 1971 and briefly coached under him while getting a graduate degree at Penn State, watched Monday morning's NCAA news conference, and barely contained his anger.

"I saw a lot of sanctimonious folks up there espousing higher lofty ideals," Ahrenhold said. "I felt like asking the president of Oregon [State] . . . nobody asked him what the graduation percentage was of his football program while he spouted his lofty ideals."

Frank's son, Tyler, was in a meeting at work when he started getting e-mails and texts about the NCAA sanctions against Penn State. Tyler Ahrenhold played for the Nittany Lions, graduating in 2011. He has close friends on the team.

"In the back of your mind, you say, 'Yeah, how can we recover from something like this?' " said Tyler, a Chestnut Hill Academy graduate who works in insurance underwriting. "You hope people rally around this team. I know I will. It hurts to have people try to erase what you did - people who had no idea these crimes took place."

The Ahrenholds, from Blue Bell, are a quintessential Penn State sports family. Both parents and their two children are graduates. Their daughter, a 2007 graduate, swam for the Nittany Lions and was a two-time Big Ten champion.

They know standing up for Paterno isn't a popular position these days.

"That guy meant more to me and meant more to my life than anybody, probably except my father, and I respect him just as much," Frank Ahrenhold, who runs a small-equipment leasing company, said of Paterno.

After reading every page of the Freeh report, he said, he isn't yet convinced there is evidence his old coach covered up the crimes of Jerry Sandusky.

"I know everyone in this drama," Frank Ahrenhold said. "I will tell you nobody knew what an absolute depraved monster Jerry was. After knowing him, I would have bet my life he was one of the greatest people I ever met in my life. It was just heart-wrenching and disgusting what happened to those kids. I feel for them with every fiber of my being."

But he believes there is a lot more evidence to sift through, that possible criminal trials ahead could point to new facts. He also believes Penn State's board of trustees "paid $6.5 million dollars" for the conclusions reached in the Freeh report, justifying decisions made by the board.

"There is room for debate, and there is room for doubt," Frank Ahrenhold said, and he added, "And if you know the man" - speaking of Paterno - "there is no doubt."

Tyler Ahrenhold added, "The Freeh report took three e-mails out of context, none of which contained direct words from Joe Paterno. I hope you can let it be known that I believe in due process and stand behind my coach."

Susan Ahrenhold, Tyler's mother, watched the news conference and heard the need for an outside overseer of sorts from the NCAA to change the culture.

"I wanted to jump through the screen and say, 'You don't know this program. You don't know these kids. You don't know Joe,' " she said.

She talked of how her son, a backup safety and special-teams regular, once went to the bathroom during class. An academic adviser from the athletic department showed up and saw he wasn't there. He ended up in Paterno's office and had to prove he'd been in the class.

"He had teammates that got bounced or got left home from bowl games - Joe didn't have any trouble with taking starters, sitting them down," Susan Ahrenhold said.

She wasn't using that evidence to claim that Paterno was infallible, or to diminish the gravity of the Sandusky scandal, she said, but only to show that athletes were not running amok at Penn State.

She also looks at unanswered questions, such as why top administrators were negotiating such a nice retirement package with Sandusky.

"I think . . . everyone wonders, what Jerry has over the university?" she said.

As far as vacating Paterno's victories from 1998 through the end of the 2011 season, Frank Ahrenhold said, "I'm going to say something that I know will tick people off:

"The person who wouldn't care about vacating those wins is Joe Paterno. He was never about that. Joe would be laughing about them. That's not the legacy he cared about. You can kick and moan and jump around about the man you're trying to besmirch, but what he was about was the kind of men he turned out of that program."

The sanctions aren't just intended to erase the past, but to put Penn State's future on a different course. Since scholarship limits will make it tougher for the Nittany Lions to compete in the Big Ten over the next four years, Tyler Ahrenhold said, he knows recruits will be lost. He remembers watching an ESPN documentary on the "death penalty" given to Southern Methodist University's football program in 1986.

"How many years ago was that, in the '80s?" he asked. "They're just recently coming back."

Nobody in the Ahrenhold family is trying to downplay the scandal, but nobody is willing to surrender their beliefs about their school and what it did for them. And Frank Ahrenhold wasn't going to conceal his anger about what he heard on his television Monday morning.

"I think it's more gang-tackling, let's kick 'em while they're down," he said. "And let's make a show of it."

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or Follow @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter.

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