When Mary Beth Yahner was a student at Penn State, she used to sell all of her student tickets. But in 1988, her junior year of college, she decided to keep one — the big Pitt vs. Penn State game.
There, she met her future husband — 1986 Pitt alumnus Ed Yahner.
The next year, the couple went to the Pitt vs. Penn State game at Pitt together, which Penn State won 16-13. Mary Beth doesn’t remember much about the game except for when she stood up to cheer after Penn State scored a touchdown. A Pitt fan behind her yelled, “Tell that Penn State b—- to sit down!”
Mary Beth turned to Ed.
“Did you hear what they just said to me?” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “So sit down.”
Ed and Mary Beth married three years later in 1991.
The Pitt vs. Penn State rivalry means a lot to the Yahners — it’s where their family began. When the rivalry was reinstated two years ago after a 16-year hiatus, the Yahners couldn’t have been happier.
“It was really emotional and made me very happy,” Ed said. “This game means so much to me.”
Over the years the couple, who reside in Brockway, had four boys — Joel, Gavin, Pierce and Reese. Ed remained a huge Pitt fan, but the family attended more Penn State games than Pitt games growing up.
“We knew a family in town that had season tickets,” Mary Beth said. “We would attend the same tailgate that [sic] Ed and I met. All the boys, including Ed at that time, would dress in blue and white when we went to the game. None of them would probably admit to this time in their lives.”
Ed had always wanted his boys to pick their own favorite teams to support, but it was an easy decision for them to pick Pitt because of how much their dad loved the school. The Yahners became Pitt season ticket holders in 1999 and it was game over for Penn State. Since then, either Pitt football or basketball has filled the Yahners’ weekends.
“The guys are all about Pitt,” Mary Beth said. “I support them and buy them Pitt gear. I have worn a ‘House Divided’ shirt the past two games. I tend to cheer more for Pitt, but really am not affected if Penn State wins.”
Those trips were some of the boys’ favorite memories growing up — and from them came Joel’s dream of playing football for Pitt one day. Although that specific dream didn’t come true, he did come close when he got a call from Pitt’s wrestling coach, Matt Kocher.
Kocher had seen Joel wrestle at a national tournament his senior year of high school and reached out to him. A couple days after the call, Joel officially became a Panther.
“I was very happy for him,” Ed said. “It was really a great honor for Joel and really special for his younger brothers and our family.”
When Joel started his wrestling career at Pitt, the rivalry between Pitt and Penn State only became more evident to him.
“We definitely had a different attitude when we wrestled them,” Joel said. “I remember wrestling in Rec Hall my freshman year. The atmosphere was crazy and it was a lot of fun.”
Four years later, it was Gavin’s turn to decide where to go to school. Growing up, he always wanted to go into hospitality management, and only one school in the area had a ranked program — Penn State. So he started his collegiate career at Penn State in the fall of 2015.
“I have to admit that having a Penn State tent at Gavin’s graduation party was very hard to get comfortable with,” Ed said. “But I know Gavin made his choice based on his career goals, so he went to PSU for all the right reasons.”
During Gavin’s first week of school, he became known as “that idiot wearing a Pitt shirt” on Yik Yak. In order to fit in a little better, he received Penn State clothes for Christmas that year, but his mother said he was still teased by some of the guys in his house.
“Coming from friends and family of hard-core Pitt fans, I definitely get picked on for being at Penn State,” Gavin said. “I do get harped on quite a bit when I wear PSU clothing when I’m at home. They say, ‘You couldn’t find a different shirt to wear?’ I always laugh and say that my Pitt shirts are in the wash.”
Even though he wears his Penn State shirts occasionally when he’s at home, Gavin is still loyal to the Panthers. When Pitt and Penn State played for the first time in 2016, Gavin wore a Pitt shirt and snuck into Pitt’s student section with his friend, who is a Pitt student. He even skipped Penn State’s home opener this year to come to Pittsburgh this past Saturday for Pitt’s home opener against Albany.
Gavin will join the rest of the Yahner family once again at the game this Saturday to cheer Pitt on from the stands. The only member of the family who won’t be in attendance is Joel, who now lives in California — but he’ll still be tuning in to support the Panthers.
Whether or not Penn State will put Pitt on its schedule in the future, the rest of the Yahner boys are adamant that they will never like Penn State.
“I still think that PSU’s athletic director was afraid to put Pitt on the schedule,” Joel said. “They have a lot more to lose than Pitt … PSU hasn’t reopened the contract to play Pitt. They are running from Pitt for sure.”
The youngest son, Reese, just started sixth grade. He may not know much about his future, but he already knows the Nittany Lions will not be a part of it.
“Because it’s Penn State,” Reese said. “I’m going to Pitt.”
Ed — Pitt 35, PSU 31
Mary Beth — “I think it will be close, but I think Pitt will win.”
Joel — “I see Pitt pulling out a close one at home again. Hail to Pitt!”
Gavin — “You know, I don’t like to predict scores. I think it’s bad luck. I do think it’s going to be a good game. Based on last week’s performances from both teams, I think it will be close.”
Pierce — No comment
Reese — “Pitt, because they have a great quarterback and Penn State’s defensive secondary is not that good this season.”