By Joe Battista
Ah, the memories. They’ve had a little more meaning for my wife and me lately. With each passing week the reality is setting in that in just a few months State College will no longer be our primary place of residency. We have called Happy Valley our home for the last 35 years and moving out of the house we built 30 years ago, where we raised our three children, and leaving the wonderful Stonebridge neighborhood and our many friends will not be easy.
So many memories, so little time to think about them with all the decluttering, packing and transition planning that must take place. My own memories in Happy Valley date back to August 1978, when my parents dropped off a wide-eyed freshman from Pittsburgh at Pinchot dormitory in East Halls. That was almost 44 years ago, and I have essentially been here ever since.
Our house in State College is now under contract and our new home in Bluffton, South Carolina, is framed and under roof. If all works out — and as anyone who has moved knows, it rarely does, especially in these times of supply chain delays and labor shortages — we will be in our new home in early August. We have planned accordingly for a few bumps in the road (literally and figuratively) but you can say a prayer or two for us just in case.
My latest trip down memory lane started last Thursday as I traveled to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Conference and Awards Banquet in Naples, Florida. That’s right, we hockey coaches aren’t as dumb as we look! I was a part of the group of founders who started the ACHA in 1991 and we had planned a big 30-year celebration last April see the founders interviews here). But, like so many things, it was postponed due to COVID-19. So, this year became the “30+1” anniversary, and I was there as the emcee of the awards and Hall of Fame banquet, which was perfect as I knew three of the four inductees very well, including former Penn State Icer Josh Mandel.
I drove down to Washington D.C. to fly out of Dulles Airport for a meeting with representatives of Dari Motion System health data platform and so I could have lunch with my oldest son Jonathon who now lives in the Navy Yard area of D.C. “Junior,” as I call him in homage to Indiana Jones, is a 2016 PSU grad working in software development for a tech start-up based in California. He has traveled the country and the world but will always have fond memories of hanging out with his friends in the basement, family room and around the fire pit at 3091 Williamsburg Drive.
I landed at Southwest Florida International Airport and drove over to my good friend and PSU alumnus Chuck Sredinski’s in North Naples. I first met Chuck through the PSU Alumni Chapter of Colorado when I was a senior at Penn State and president of the Ice Hockey Club. He helped our rather poor Icers team out by allowing us to stay at his house in Boulder for the first ever Club Hockey National Championships. The whole team and two coaches, mind you! It started a lifelong friendship since I have traveled to Southwest Florida for the annual American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) Convention that was held at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort going back to the late 1980s.
So many fun memories at both the AHCA and ACHA conferences over the years, including my first ever karaoke experience, which proved unequivocally that I have no future as a singer. From the coaching clinics, motivational speakers, golf tournament, knee-high club (coaches wading into the Gulf of Mexico waters with a cold beverage to tell old stories), Harold’s Place, Pelican Larry’s, the Naples Zoo, Tin City, the Sunday night pool party with the locals, to the sometimes emotional and heated national and divisional business meetings, there was never a dull moment when the hockey coaches invaded Naples.
Alas, the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort is also now just a memory as they are in the process of tearing down the resort and the golf course is brown and fenced off. I took a final walk along the beach where the Knee-High Club met, including some of the legends of the college hockey world over the years. The conventions have moved to new locations at the Naples Grand Hotel and Spanish Wells Country Club, respectively, as there is no longer a place big enough to hold the combined numbers of NCAA and ACHA men’s and women’s programs. That is a testament to the growth of college hockey over the past 30 years.
On Friday evening, I was privileged to be the emcee for the 30+1 anniversary of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Coaches and Hall of Fame (HOF) Awards banquet. It turned out to be an incredibly emotional night for many in attendance, especially yours truly. I started the evening by giving a brief personal description of how much the growth of the ACHA from 48 teams in two men’s divisions in 1991 to over 500 teams in three Men’s and two women’s divisions meant to those of us who founded the organization. Tens of thousands of young women and men getting to represent their schools is probably the most impactful accomplishment I have been a part of in my hockey career.
After I introduced the national champions, players of the year and coaches of the year in the five divisions, it was time for the HOF ceremony. As a 2008 inductee myself, this was a tremendous honor, and it was a great pleasure to be the host of the ceremony. First up was a young man that I have known since he was 9 years old. Anthony Feyock, a Johnstown native, was a goalie from the University of Rhode Island, who attended our PSU hockey camps for nine years along with his sister Stephanie (who played for the Lady Icers) and younger brother Dan. Anthony was in goal for URI when they defeated us 3-1 in the national championship game in my final game as the Icers coach in 2006. I have remained friends with Anthony and his family over the years and it was especially memorable to be a part of his induction.
I was also a part of the induction of my long-time friend Sam Kelly, a Penn State alum, who was the head coach and patriarch of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) hockey program. Sam, who passed away from cancer in 2020, was honored posthumously. He helped get the Indiana ice rink built, managed the facility, ran the youth hockey programs, and coached for years in the PA Keystone games. He was a class act and a pioneer of hockey in the state.
Finally, the highlight of the evening came for me. It was time for me to induct former PSU Icer team captain Josh Mandel (Cranford, New Jersey) who was instrumental in helping our team win four consecutive ACHA National Championships (2000-2003). With his parents, Lorrie and Mike, his lovely wife, Rachael (PSU chemical engineering Class of 2004) and their beautiful children Jack, Ava, Eli and Molly looking on, I delivered a typical JoeBa emotional and tearful recap of Josh’s amazing career.
Josh was named to the first-team All-Tournament Team all four of those years, was a first team ACHA All-American all four years, and a two-time member of the U.S. team at the Winter World University Games in 2001 and 2003 (a team for which I had the honor to be head coach). He was selected the team captain but also the flag bearer representing all the United States athletes at the opening ceremonies in Tarvisio, Italy. It did not take me long to choke up and get emotional when talking about what Josh meant to Penn State hockey on and off the ice. But it gave me even more of a sense of pride to see the husband Josh had become to his wife and the father he had become to his four children. He and his wife run a successful family business called CrossFit KOA in Mountainside, New Jersey. For those of you who have ever attended an epic Icers banquet, you’d have been proud of me, as I ended the awards ceremony 15 minutes early. It only took 35 years to learn the concept of brevity.
Ah, the memories. They came flooding back like a tidal wave. The next day I had brunch with long-time Penn State and Icers academic advisor and State College resident Ruth Hussey, who now makes Naples her home. The ageless Ruth looks so young and healthy as living in southwest Florida seems to agree nicely with her. Many an academically- and career-lost soul owes a debt of gratitude for Ruth’s invaluable guidance to right their course.
While our plan remains to purchase a condo and to live part-time in Happy Valley in the future, those plans remain dependent on a few variables, including the crazy real estate and stock markets, so the timeline is fluid. While seeing friends via technology will help ease the pain of being away, the “out of sight, out of mind” adage will surely be tested.
Our dog, Barkley, who coincidentally was born in South Carolina, will especially be interested in our timeline for trips back north to see his friends Kingston, Bentley, Gibby, Haze, Cortland and especially Tucker and his beloved Penny. There are times when we wonder if he’d rather just stay in State College with the Fritton family!
Ah, the memories. I believe there will be a few more tearful trips down memory lane in the coming months for the Battista family.
(Originally published at https://www.statecollege.com/another-trip-down-memory-lane/)