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Penn State caravan and Coquese Washington roll into NYC

LOIS ELFMAN Special to the AmNews | 5/17/2012, 2:20 p.m.
After finding their school in the headlines for reasons far removed from their sports accomplishments,...
Penn State caravan and Coquese Washington roll into NYC

After finding their school in the headlines for reasons far removed from their sports accomplishments, a dozen head coaches from Penn State hit the road for an 18-stop tour to meet with alumni and supporters. The star attraction of the Coaches Caravan was the university's new football coach, Bill O'Brien, who was joined by fellow Nittany Lions women's basketball coach Coquese Washington.

"One of the things that has been really neat for me is interacting with the alumni, supporters and fans," said Washington when the caravan was in New York last week, "hearing their stories of how our program and Lady Lion basketball has impacted their lives or the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

"When you're in the middle of a season and you're worrying, 'How are we going to beat Ohio State?' you get so focused on leading your team and managing your program that we often don't have time or the opportunities to go and thank people for supporting the program and hear their stories."

In her fifth season at Penn State, Washington, who played with the New York Liberty in 1998 and '99 and is the first female African-American head coach in Penn State history, coached the Lady Lions to the Big 10 Championship and the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. She acknowledged that major news stories--such as accusations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the death of the legendary Joe Paterno--occurred on game days.

"We couldn't put our heads in the sand," she said. "We had an opportunity to be an example of all the things that are right about Penn State by carrying ourselves with a level of excellence."

Not only did the student-athletes succeed on the court, they also earned their highest collective grade point average in several years. Washington appreciated the respect shown the Lady Lions by opposing teams.

As he traveled with fellow coaches, O'Brien brought a message not heard in many schools with successful football programs: 31 sports, one team. "Here, it's all about sharing ideas," said O'Brien, who attended several Lady Lion games.

"There's been a lot of support, a lot of positivity," Washington said. "Penn State alums are a really positive group of people. They're energized about what Bill O'Brien is going to bring to the field."