By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) – Pennsylvania State University plans a special commemoration later this month marking the 50th anniversary of the late Joe Paterno’s first game as head football coach, the school said on Thursday, nearly five years after he was fired over a child sex abuse scandal.
The planned event is the latest indication that Penn State officials are still committed to some extent to honoring the athletic legacy of Paterno, the winningest coach ever in major U.S. college football. The school removed a statue of him in 2012, but a library at the campus still bears his name.
Penn State trustees in 2011 fired Paterno from his position as head coach after disclosures that he knew of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy in the school’s locker room showers in 2002 but failed to notify police.
Instead, Paterno said he informed the university’s athletic director, who told other administrators without ever going to authorities.
The Penn State football program, in a statement posted online, said its Sept. 17 home game against Temple University will feature activities to “commemorate Joe Paterno’s first game as the head football coach at Penn State” in 1966.
It would be the first planned public event honoring Paterno since his 2011 dismissal, according to PA Media Group’s PennLive.com, the website for the Harrisburg Patriot-News. He died of cancer in 2012 at age 85.
A representative for the Penn State athletic program could not be reached for comment late on Thursday.
Jennifer Storm, the state of Pennsylvania’s official victim advocate, said in a statement that the plan to commemorate Paterno’s 50th anniversary was “insensitive,” according to NBC News.
Penn State’s entire football program was rocked by fallout from the 2011 indictment charging Sandusky with 40 criminal counts of molesting several boys from 1994 to 2009. It has since been alleged that Paterno and other university officials knew or should have known of incidents of abuse dating back to 1998.
Sandusky, 72, is serving a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years after a jury convicted him in 2012 of molesting 10 boys.
Court documents unsealed in July implicated Paterno in an earlier case of child sexual abuse – indicating that he had ignored the complaint of a 14-year-old boy who told him in 1976 of having been sexually assaulted by Sandusky.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Editing by Steve Gorman, Bernard Orr)