Slippery Rock is a teachers college in western Pennsylvania about 45 miles north of Pittsburgh—one of 14 state teachers colleges in Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1889, has an enrollment of 830, and sits on a very pretty campus half a mile from the dead center of downtown Slippery Rock.
Slippery Rock itself is a small (pop. 2,292), quiet town with one movie and two stop lights. It is named for Slippery Rock Creek. The creek in turn is named for any one of the large, fiat limestone slabs lining its sides and bottom. A legend says an early settler escaped from an Indian when the Indian slipped on one of the rocks. The legend fails to mention the name of the settler or the Indian.
All of the 14 Pennsylvania state teachers colleges train student teachers in elementary and secondary education, and each also has one or more special departments. Slippery Rock's specialty is Health and Physical Education. Both men and women students compete the year round in intramural sports. Men play ten intercollegiate sports—football, cross-country, soccer, golf, basketball, swimming, baseball, track and field, tennis and gymnastics. Participation is encouraged. Over 100 of the 362 men enrolled in the school turned out for varsity football this fall. There is definitely no movement towards de-emphasis at Slippery Rock.
What is emphasized, however, is the complete lack of subsidization of athletes. There are no athletic scholarships (tuition, except for minor fees, is free to Pennsylvania residents; only a handful of students come from other states). There are no special inducements to entice likely-looking high school athletes; no training table, no free rooms or free books; no special jobs reserved for them on campus or in town.
A few of the boys who play football at Slippery Rock were offered athletic scholarships from other schools, but most were never that good. Nevertheless, football is the big sport on campus, principally because of the nationwide publicity the school enjoys—or suffers—but also because, the players claim, football is fun at Slippery Rock.
Joe Pekar, a powerfully built senior, explained:
"In the high school I went to, football was very important. Sometimes there were five or six thousand people at a game. In the summer we used to go to a summer football camp, like the big colleges and the pros. In high school." He shook his head. "Up here, if you're hurt you don't play. In high school I played with a cast on my hand. I mean, in that high school football came first. Here, you play because it's something to do. It's fun."
It may be fun, but if is also hard work. There is no spring training and very little preseason practice. Daily workouts don't start until four o'clock because of classes. It gets dark about five.
It is hard for unskilled players to learn good football in a schedule as tight as that and the result is often mediocrity. Mediocrity can be discouraging.
But if mediocrity is discouraging, pride is encouraging, and at Slippery Rock there is great pride. It is not a defiant pride—one that says, well, we're stuck with Slippery Rock, we'd better make the most of it. It is, rather, a pride based on a cheerful appreciation of very real values—a highly skilled faculty, a self-reliant, responsible student body, a lively educational program, an atmosphere of friendliness that permeates every part of the campus.
This year, however, Slippery Rock's pride took a severe beating on the football field. The team lost four of its first five games.
"When we're weak it's hard for us to win," Joe Pekar said. "They all love to beat us. I guess it's because we're Slippery Rock." Like Notre Dame, Slippery Rock's reputation can be a millstone around its neck.
Last Saturday powerful Clarion State came to town, a strong favorite to win. In an effort to confuse Clarion's powerful offense, Coach Chester Stackhouse of Slippery Rock devised a radical defensive pattern based on, of all things, a three-man line. Five linebackers would play close behind the line and charge inside or outside in any one of a half-dozen variations.
Stackhouse introduced his team to the new defense on Tuesday and worked on it in practice all week. On Saturday the players were in uniform at noon, cramped behind desks in a classroom as Stackhouse went over the defenses on a blackboard. At one they were on the leaf-littered campus lawn, banging against each other in light contact work.
A few minutes before two, the team left the lawn and filed across campus to Thompson Field. "Let's go, Rockets," a student yelled. "An upset!"
There was no upset, though for a few minutes it seemed as if there might be: the unorthodox defense was stopping Clarion. But victory depended on driving, spirited play, and three jarring, bad breaks crushed that spirit. A touchdown on an intercepted pass was called back because of a clipping penalty. A beautiful punt to the one-yard line was wasted when another clipping penalty on the return punt sent Slippery Rock back to its own 38. There, they lost the ball on a fumble on first down, and two plays later Clarion scored.
Slippery Rock had a couple of good moments after that—the offense got rolling for a few plays—but for all intents and purposes the game was over. It was all Clarion: 7-0 at the quarter, 14-0 at the half, 30-0 at the third quarter, 36-0 at the end.
With 57 seconds to go, Joe Pekar came out of the game. Football may not be as important at Slippery Rock as it is at some high schools, but nobody likes to lose. Pekar sat down heavily on the bench, his face filthy with dirt and sweat, his eyes heavy with fatigue and defeat. A student trainer armed with sponge and towel silently mopped off his face and head.
"How do you feel, Joe?" someone asked.
Pekar lifted his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"Okay," he said.
The student trainer looked down at him.
"Don't lie, Joe," he said gently.