Sandusky Second to None
Jerry Sandusky and a friend.
Jerry Sandusky and a friend.
FOS Contributor
Posted Mar 27, 2007


Though he no longer coaches college football, former Penn State defensive coordinator continues to make an impact on young people. Catch up with Sandusky in this free preview of the next issue of Fight On State The Magazine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story is offered as a preview of the next issue of Fight On State The Magazine, which focuses on the Penn State athletics family giving back to the community. The order deadline for the magazine is midnight Wednesday. See THIS LINK for details on how to subscribe.

The usual suspects unspool as the highlight reel rolls past 35 years of memories for Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. From Jack Ham to LaVar Arrington, nine first-team All-Americans rush the screen. In the Arizona desert, Pete Giftopolous intercepts Miami's Vinny Testaverde on fourth down to seal the national championship at the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

The Nittany Lions' film library surely has its own Sandusky shelf. But a grainy home movie sits somewhere among the memories, tucked away as securely as the ball Giftopolous intercepted. This reel isn't measured in 60-minute increments. The outcomes take years, sometimes decades, to come into focus. It measures the lives he's touched off the field.

Sandusky retired from Penn State after the 1999 season. But the former defensive coordinator never stopped game planning. He founded The Second Mile in 1977 to provide a helping hand and human contact for at-risk children and education and support for their parents. The outcomes are as dramatic as any game. Turning a life around isn't an exact science.

“It still comes down to [the kids]. When you lose one, it's devastating. When you win, it's a big victory,” Sandusky says. “It really isn't much different [than football]. As good as your plans are, sometimes they are subject to circumstances beyond your control.”

The challenges off the field mirror the ones between the goal posts.

“You're trying to get these kids to buy in. You're trying to set goals. You're trying to form attachments,” Sandusky says. “You just try to lead them, encourage them.”

The Second Mile has nine programs involving prevention, early intervention and community-based agendas. It also plans activities and camps to promote self-confidence. During his childhood in Washington, Pa., Sandusky's parents ran a recreation center. Jerry and his wife, Dorothy, have six adopted children. Jerry and Dorothy also brought foster children and fresh-air kids into their home.

“There was never a dull moment in our house,” says Jon Sandusky, 30, the second-youngest of Jerry's children. “There was always someone coming into the house, someone who had a family issue or a social issue. It definitely taught you a lot of lessons. You never had it as bad as you think you do.”

Jon, now a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, marvels at his father's energy and commitment to his extended family during his childhood and The Second Mile today.

“It took growing up and moving out to appreciate the kind of person he is,” Jon says. “Everyone says he's a legend. I wasn't thinking that when he was yelling at me. I wasn't thinking that when he took me in his room and gave me a stern look.

“He's made a difference in people's lives. He takes a lesson from everyone he's learned from, all his mentors. He tries to pass it on.”

Jerry Sandusky says The Second Mile touches “over 100,000 kids” every year. He never pondered its present size when he founded it in 1977. The original idea was small in scale. The seeds were planted by his parents, Art and Evelyn.

“That place [his parents' recreation center] was in the back of my mind,” Jerry says. “There was never a grand design. The original idea was to start a foster home.”

The idea blossomed far beyond its origins.

“He's the inspiration. He has always been an inspiration to all the staff, donors and volunteers,” says Hank Lesch, The Second Mile's vice president of administration. “He's the lifeblood of our organization.”

Lesch is held to the same standard Sandusky demanded on the field.

“There's an expectation of accountability,” Lesch says. “There's a tradition here at The Second Mile in providing excellence.”

The tradition is self-sustaining.

“People get enthusiastic. You want to keep getting better,” Sandusky says. “People can lose their enthusiasm.”

The Second Mile Golf Tournament is scheduled for June 21-23 at the Blue and White Golf Courses on campus and Lesch is still seeking more sponsorships. For the 18th year, it's not really about golf. The money raised at the tournament helps fund the many Second Mile programs.

“It's more than just a tournament. It's the whole bag,” Lesch said. “It's been just a tremendous experience. You need to make a good case for the programs you provide children. Because of that, we're able to provide a case as to why their volunteerism is important to us.”

Sandusky's son Jon will tee off again this summer.

“You get to play golf with people who have the same sort of feeling about the charity as you do,” says Jon, who often provides autographed Eagles footballs and other memorabilia to help raise funds. “That's always one of the highlights of the summer.”

The money raised will help change lives. Sandusky's organization enables personal battles and victories that will never show up on SportsCenter. He's witnessed many of those battles firsthand. There was the young girl whose mother was addicted to drugs and she came into this world at risk.

“She was drug-addicted at birth. Her mother passed away [when she was 2 years old],” Sandusky says.

She came to one of the organization's camps but wasn't buying into The Second Mile.

“She didn't want to stay. One of the counselors convinced her to stay,” Sandusky says. “She began to realize she wasn't the only one who faced challenges. We supported her through college. She graduated from Penn State. You have to have that fight and commitment. We provide tradition, something they can count on.”

Sandusky recalls a young boy who wrote him in search of a steadying hand, a comforting voice.

“He asserted himself with that letter. He came from a single-parent home. He struggled academically, failed two years of elementary school,” says Sandusky.

The Second Mile helped the boy's mother earn her undergraduate and graduate degrees. The boy went on to graduate college and now serves on The Second Mile's committee in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Motivating at-risk children often requires far more effort than inspiring gridders.

“[Football players] realized they needed you. [Today's children] obviously, are exposed at a much younger age to many different things. In fairness to the kids, this is the world they grow up in,” Sandusky says.

Whatever The Second Mile provides, no matter the size of the impact, Sandusky will take it.

“We'll touch well over 100,000 kids. Motivating, mentoring,” says Sandusky. “If nothing else — memories.”

Sandusky's coaching memories are indelible as well. He doesn't deny that he misses prowling the sideline on Saturdays. But he doesn't miss how the game has evolved.

“The focus [in major college football] is to become a professional football player, make all this money,” he says. “At one time it was important to go to college, get a degree.”

He's scratched the itch as a volunteer coach at Central Mountain High in Lock Haven, calling it a “humbling experience.” Watching Penn State take the field stirs emotion.

“Game day is about the hardest sometimes. I've had that urge [to coach] a little bit. I'm so wrapped up in what we're doing. There are too many things I have to do,” Sandusky says. “Life seems to be crazy as ever.”

Sandusky will run football camps beginning in May at Robert Morris University, Muhlenburg, Penn State-Erie and Albright in addition to 10 foundation camps.

“My summer is pretty well camped,” he says.

He's spent some of his free time with his mother.

“My mom's health has been bad. I've been able to devote more time to her,” he says.

After a standout athletic career at Washington (Pa.) High, Sandusky played at Penn State, graduating in 1966. Recently one of his high school coaches paid a visit. Sandusky says if he ever slows down he would make the rounds as well.

“If I would retire, I'd like to be able to catch up with everybody, that would be the only reason,” he says.

His son Jon says the catching up would take a lot of work.

“The number of people he's touched, that would be hard to ever count,” Jon says. “He puts off such a vibe and energy. I don't know how he does it.”

The Second Mile seems second nature.

“If we helped one, two, a few along the way — it was going to be worth it,” Sandusky says.

Sandusky's helped more than a few, and he recalls them as clearly as any interception or sack. He remembered that youngster who struggled in elementary school and became the young man who graduated college, with help along the way from The Second Mile. Sometimes the reel comes full circle.

“He never forgot. When he was about to graduate college he invited me to a hockey game,” Sandusky says. “He said 'I'm paying for everything.' ”

Learn more about The Second Mile at www.thesecondmile.org.

Among the content in this special issue, you will find the following:

Gone But Not Forgotten
Bob Perks' legacy endures via a charity that helps cancer patients
By Mark Brennan

Passing the Baton
Coaching changes have not slowed Penn State Coaches vs. Cancer
By Mark Brennan

Raising the Bar
Scott Shirley is taking the PSU Lift For Life concept national
By Geoff Rushton

Think Pink
Lady Lions and their fans join the fight against breast cancer
By Jeff Byers

Colorful Memories
A Penn State team wearing pink is unique but not unprecedented
By Lou Prato

Where Eagles Dare
How a tragedy led to improved safety in the sport of pole vaulting
By Ed Dare

Sayles Receipt
Former Nittany Lion football player is now focused on helping kids
By Matt Herb

Sue Paterno Q&A
First lady of PSU athletics talks about Special Olympics Pennsylvania
With Mark Brennan

Blue-Carpet Treatment
Gridders do their part to help Penn State's annual Dance Marathon
By Mark Brennan


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