Penn State Sports Archives goes long in tracking athletic history

Sports archivist Paul Dzyak modeled a robe once worn by a Penn State boxer. Credit: Bill Zimmerman / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For 25 years, the Penn State Sports Archives has been a steward of detailed knowledge of athletic pursuits at the University.The sports archives reveals such arcane statistics in its physical records as the number of home football games in 1893 -- one, a 32-0 win over Pittsburgh -- during the four-win, one-loss season under coach George “Doc” Hoskins; and the 1919 winning percentage, 0.846, for the men’s basketball team, the only season under Hugo Bezdek, who, incidentally, also was the football coach.But sports statistics really just skim the surface of the information that can be found in the archives’ offerings. It also holds a wealth of cultural knowledge befitting a top research institution. The archives shed light on the Nittany Lions breaking the color barrier at the 1948 Cotton Bowl and the rise of women’s intercollegiate athletics well before Title IX created equality among men’s and women’s sports programs. Plus, the collection offers vast insight into University history; details on campus geography, student life and alumni engagement abound.

“There’s nothing like holding a document that’s 100 years old or more to make you realize that this is bigger than you are,” said University Archivist Jackie Esposito.

Established in 1988 as part of University Libraries, the sports archives is one of the oldest and largest of its kind, representing all 31 men’s and women’s sports programs as well intramural and club athletics.Housed in the Paterno Library, the collection boasts approximately 100,000 sports photos, slides and negatives. More than 1,000 have been digitized. The oldest image is of the 1866 baseball team.

To view images from "Glory Days: Celebrating 25 Years of Sports Archives at Penn State" exhibit that ran earlier this year in the Hintz Family Alumni Center. 

There are about 30,000 sports films and videotapes on a dozen different formats, including film reels and videocassettes of varying sizes. Sports networks often request archival footage to supplement coverage of Penn State football games, Esposito said. The oldest footage is of a 1929 gridiron contest against the University of Pennsylvania.The collection, under the daily management of sports archivist Paul Dzyak, also houses a vast array of publications, including media guides, yearbooks and bowl game programs. Back issues of the Beaver Stadium Pictorial go back to the 1920s when it was titled the Beaver Field Pictorial. Most of the archives’ services are free; however there are fees associated with the commercial usage of materials and the processing of items such as when old film is transferred to a digital format or DVD.Approximately 11,000 folders contain photos, biographies, newspaper clippings and other materials on individual athletes. Archivists recently fielded a request from a former soccer player wanting to prove to his grandkids that he was a college athlete.“They always call back and tell you how much it meant to them that somebody cared enough to save this stuff, that this stuff still exists and they were able to come back and relive that feeling,” Esposito said.The uses for the archives are seemingly as vast as the collection, according to archives staff. Among those who take advantage of the offerings:-- Production crews obtaining footage for Hollywood movies and television shows;-- Downtown retailers using images to inform the design of merchandise and displays;-- Theater students learning of bygone clothing styles to shape costume designs for period plays; and-- Researchers exploring topics from the evolution of game rules to advertising.A prodigious amount of the photographs, files, programs, media guides and other materials were provided to the sports archives over the years — and continue to be provided — by the University's Office of Athletic Communications. Additionally, a great deal of game film, videotape and sundry originated in Intercollegiate Athletics.For Esposito, the glimpse into the student-athlete experience provides some of the richest content in the archives. Like when the 1948 football squad defiantly brought two African-American players -- Wally Triplett and Dennis Hoggard -- to the Cotton Bowl, integrating the annual game. The archives contain an audio recording of Triplett’s reflections decades later.“You still get goose bumps when you know what it meant for that team to go out there with those two black players and know the grief that they were going to get for doing it, and what it meant for them,” Esposito said.The archives, she said, gives credit to students who made sports history while juggling classes and other real-world responsibilities. After the groundbreaking bowl game, Triplett skipped a postgame party and flew back to State College, leading one journalist to call the junior back “aloof,” according to Esposito. “He couldn't talk to the press,” Esposito said. "He was getting back here for finals.”The archives also maintains substantial materials on the Olympics -- Penn Staters have won 10 gold, 8 silver and 16 bronze medals -- furthering the narrative of student-athletes doing extraordinary things, according to Esposito. (The late professor and Olympic historian John Lucas contributed 160 boxes worth of archival resources.)“You learn what it meant to be on that field, what it meant to go out there and hear those fans, why they pursued these sports with injuries, with being beat up, with not having scholarships. Why would you go out and do that?” she said. “For me that’s what I like about the collections.”The long history of women’s sports also gets its due. In the first half of the 1900s, the University started the Women’s Recreation Association to offer fitness opportunities for females. Some photos show them running in wool dresses and heels. By 1937, the White Building would open as an athletic facility for women, thanks to the efforts of Marie Haidt, head of women’s physical education.“She was the one who refused to let the girls swim in the Glennland Pool (in State College) if boys had been there. She made them drain it. After a while the University decided that women needed their own building. This is 40 years before Title IX, and we’re doing it here at Penn State," said Esposito.The sports archives staff works closely with the All-Sports Museum, supplying about 4,000 of the images shown there. Esposito uses the treatment of John Cappelletti’s storied career to illustrate how the two entities document history: the museum houses memorabilia like the running back’s uniform and Heisman Trophy; the archives has video footage of his Heisman acceptance speech and a transcript of his talk.Early next year the sports archives will offer some public programming, including a collaborative exhibit with the All-Sports Museum, highlighting Penn Staters in the Winter Olympics, which will be on display in January. A panel discussion on the breaking of the color barrier in the 1948 Cotton Bowl is planned for February. Then, in March, the archives staff plans to hold an open house with a discussion on 50 years of women’s athletics at Penn State.For more information on the Sports Archives, visit

Last Updated October 16, 2013