As a longtime assistant football coach for Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions, Frank Rocco is used to overcoming challenges on the football field.
But writing about a female soldier and mother surviving a helicopter crash on the battlefield in Afghanistan was something entirely new.
Rocco’s chapter was selected as the fourth and final installment of “Your Story,” written by readers of the Centre Daily Times and The Tribune Democrat.
Rocco, 73, picked up writing as a hobby after retiring in 2000.
He took classes offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, performing exercises such as selecting four random words out of the dictionary and crafting a story based around them.
Rocco said such drills prepared him for the challenge of picking up a story in the middle, resolving its drama, and giving it an ending that packed a punch.
“I loved picking up the story halfway through being told,” Rocco said.
“What I tried to do was read the first three chapters, figure out all the loose ends, and tie those all together in the fourth chapter.”
Rocco, originally from Elwood City, moved around during both his childhood and for his career.
He was a teacher and administrator for 21 years before turning his attention toward football.
He joined Penn State’s staff in 1982 and rose to become the university’s assistant athletic director from 1986 to 2000.
From 2000 to 2002, he was the director of football operations at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
He moved back to State College in 2002 to retire and be with his youngest daughter, who lives in the area.
“I spent 20 years here; I was involved in the Kiwanis. So coming back was coming home,” Rocco said.
Rocco said he has written just for fun for years, but this was the first time he had ever submitted any of his writing for review in such a forum.
“I just thought I’d take a peek at it,” Rocco said.
“I’m really thrilled to be selected.”