Three years after resurrection, Panther Pitt aiming to make a difference


Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt football’s student section has regained its identity.   

The Panther Pitt disappeared during the mid-to-late 2000s when the students who started the group graduated and no one else stepped in to take the reins. After a brief hiatus, The Panther Pitt returned in 2012 and has roared on into 2015, with the goal of improving the Panther game environment.

“Our main focus was enhancing the football gameday experience and traditions and unifying the students into a group,” Joe Lassi, a student who was one of the key forces behind the revival, said.

To do that, they needed a lot of input.

To find that input, former SGB President Gordon Louderback and fellow SGB representative Megan McGrath helped form the Traditions Committee in January 2012, which also included representatives from the Oakland Zoo, Pitt Band, Blue and Gold Society, Pitt Program Council, Pathfinders, First-Year Mentors, Student Life, Residence Life, Greek Life and even a football player — defensive back Andrew Taglianetti.

The idea was to get “a mass pool of students from all different types of activities and age groups, ranging from freshmen to fifth-year seniors, in order to gather a wide range of opinions,” Louderback said.

With these voices in place, the Student Government Board’s Traditions Committee hatched the idea to bring back the Panther Pitt in February 2012.

Louderback pointed to the Oakland Zoo, Pitt’s nationally acclaimed basketball student section at the Petersen Events Center, as rationale for reviving the defunct group.

“We already had this great student body who would show up to the Pete and be absolutely great, recognized as one of the best student sections in college basketball,” Louderback said. “Why not do the same for football? We obviously had the talent, it was just a matter of getting it organized.”

Lassi, who was president of the Oakland Zoo at the time the University brought the Panther Pitt back, also noted how the basketball fan section encouraged the resurrection of a football student section.

“Because I was in charge of the Zoo, I saw how successful a student section could be as a unified group, so I just wanted us to have that for football too,” Lassi said.

Lassi was the Zoo’s representative on the Traditions Committee, as well as Louderback’s roommate, so they were able to work closely together on ideas for bringing back the Panther Pitt and improving it.

Lassi was also able to bring his experience running the Oakland Zoo to the table when the committee held its weekly meetings to discuss plans for the Panther Pitt.

“If people would suggest things that I had personal experience with from running the Zoo, I could comment on whether or not I thought it would work because I had been through it before with another student group,” Lassi said.

Once the SGB Traditions Committee officially decided to resurrect the Panther Pitt, the next step was determining how to organize everyone into a unified group. The Zoo is famous for its Vegas Gold T-shirts, but the committee wanted the Panther Pitt to have its own identity. They made the shirts navy blue instead, looking to contrast the gold seats at Heinz Field.

The Panther Pitt tied the shirt into the student season ticket price, so anyone who purchases season tickets to Pitt’s home games is guaranteed a  Panther Pitt T-shirt to wear to the games.

To ensure this reincarnation of the Panther Pitt would last, the committee became an official student group.

They developed a constitution, held meetings and elected officers to serve as the group’s leaders after the original members had graduated.

Once they received University recognition, the committee could focus its attention toward improving the gameday experience for students and fans.

Lassi said the goal of improvement is still a work in progress, and doing what the Zoo did for basketball games is much more difficult on the gridiron.

A larger stadium means more heads to try and unify over a spread out space, and the need to travel to Downtown for games adds an extra logistics obstacle for fans.

According to the group’s current president, Matt Feraco, improving transportation has been his mission since taking over the post in March 2015. Feraco wants to raise awareness of the shuttles while adding more pickup locations. Feraco hoped doing so would get students to stay and cheer for entire games.

Originally, the shuttles at the main pickup location on Reedsdale Street were the only options provided to get students back to campus. Due to long lines for shuttles at the end of games, students began departing during the second half.

This caused “a bit of an epidemic,” according to Feraco. Students would begin to file out of the stadium after the traditional singing of “Sweet Caroline” in the third quarter.

To combat the problem, the group helped install two new stops to the rotation over the last two years — one at West General Robinson Street and one along the North Shore, both of which don’t leave until postgame.

“There are at least 10 buses at each location, with about 85 buses in total at each game,” Feraco said.  “After they take students back to campus, they circle back to the stadium and rejoin the loop,”

The goal is for students to want to stay for all four quarters of games, not just when the stadium’s PA system ceases the crooning of Neil Diamond.

The Panther Pitt added the hashtag #FourQuarters to the back of their shirts this year, encouraging fans to stay there and stay loud for all four quarters.

Pitt athletics is trying to get fans to enjoy the game — postgame snack initiatives and all. If the Panther Pitt can help in that process at all, then, to quote a certain singer, good times will never seem so good.