Penn State football, of course, has had its share of negative publicity over the past 2 ½ years. But it shouldn’t be forgotten there’s plenty of good to come out of the program and the school.
There’s THON, a wonderful and highly-successful university-at-large student-run philanthropic endeavor that’s not football program-centric. For a nationwide program that was started at Penn State by Penn State football players and is administrated today by current Penn State players, check out the work being done by Uplifting Athletes.
Penn State football players have raised more than $825,000 for kidney cancer patients over the past 11 years, dating back to the forerunner of Uplifting Athletes (which has chapters at 22 universities – including Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame – listed on its website).
According to the site, the vision of the Uplifting Athletes multi-university organization dated back to Penn State’s Lift For Life, which began in 2003 after then-PSU wide receiver Scott Shirley was informed that his father, Don, was diagnosed with incurable kidney cancer.
The Lift For Life has endured since, raising increasing amounts of money for raising awareness and research opportunities for those affected by kidney cancer, which is classified as a “rare disease.” Each school’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes aligns a college football team with a different rare disease, which UA defines as a disease that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans and consequently lacks financial incentive to make and market new treatments (combined, almost 30 million Americans are affected by rare diseases). Shirley serves as Uplifting Athletes’ full-time executive director.
The organization has moved past just Penn State, but the Nittany Lions’ chapter is thriving. Linebacker Ben Kline serves as president, with running back Deron Thompson the vice president, tight end Adam Breneman secretary, tight end (and South Allegheny HS alum) Jessse James the director of marketing, running back Akeel Lynch the compliance manager, among other officers.
“It’s something that’s been kind of passed on here for the last 12 years, and it’s been something that a lot of guys put a lot of time into and done a really good job with it,” Kline said. “And the guys who did it while I was here – (former PSU offensive linemen Mike) Farrell and (Eric) Shrive and (Adam) Gress and Ty (Howle) and (linebacker) Glenn (Carson) – those are some of my best friends, so to see the time they put into it, my group of friends that’s kind of doing it now wants to do a good job with it and make sure that they everything that the guys put into it before us kind of got carried on. And that’s kind of how we see our responsibility with it and that’s why we are trying to do as good a job as we can with it.”
Kline deflects any credit for any of Uplifting Athletes’ accomplishments, saying being president “is just a title” and that “everyone on the team is really into it… we do a good job of sharing the responsibilities.” He was asked to serve as president by this past season’s outgoing officers, and Kline got his circle of friends within the team on board.
“They said, ‘Would this be something you’d be interested in and your crew would be interested in?’” Kline said. “And I said, ‘yeah,’ and kind of one thing led to another and then I was a president. And the rest of our crew kind of rounds out the board and the rest of the team does an awesome job of doing everything we can to help out people who are affected by kidney cancer.”
Lynch, for example, said Kline, a redshirt senior, approached him about joining the board. “I said, ‘Sure,’ because Ben’s a good guy and I’ll definitely follow his leadership.”
Penn State linebacker Mike Hull remembers the meeting that Shrive and others called to recruit their successors as the officers/caretakers of Uplifting Athletes before Shrive and others graduated. Hull, the defense’s 2014 captain and a Canon-McMillan alum, said he noticed Kline quickly – and wholeheartedly – bought into the organization’s mission.
“He’s been doing a really good job fundraising and raising money ever since,” Hull said. “He’s into that kind of stuff; he’s really smart and he takes it really seriously. It’s for a great cause.
It didn’t take long for Kline’s community-service efforts to catch the eye of his new head coach.
“Every time we’re doing some type of community service activity, he’s all over it,” James Franklin said earlier this spring. “He’s involved in everything.”
The Lift for Life and Uplifting Athletes, Kline insists, is a full team-wide venture.
“Guys are really, really helpful, coming to events and things like that, doing everything they can to get involved,” he said. “We do a great job of making sure that everybody is involved and everybody really wants to be involved which is awesome. The guys who maybe have the important titles, it makes our jobs a lot easier because everybody wants to be involved and everybody wants to help.”